'A Range Rover P38 is a more satisfying choice than a late Classic'

Want to get into a Range Rover? Keith Adams reckons there's only one to punt at right now

Words: Keith Adams 


 

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 April 2018 Issue

April 2018 Issue


It’s good to see that the late Classic Range Rover is being hailed as a clever money car in this issue, and that its aesthetics are now being hailed by more experts. I’ve always been a fan of late Rangies – not so long ago I drove a 1971 and 1991 back to back and couldn’t see a reason why you’d pay 10 times as much for the earlier car.


But equally, these late cars have been on the rise for some time now. The idea of finding a hidden gem for a few hundred quid is pretty remote. Shame, but there you go. Classics are classics. Not so with the P38. Here’s a car that only a handful of people have really cottoned on to, so good ones can still be found cheap, which makes them very appealing. And you know what? I think a P38 is a much more satisfying choice than a late Classic.


‘Ah, but it’s a P38!’ I hear you cry. ‘The ugly Metrocab-aping second-generation Rangie with a fondness for the hard shoulder, and a known ability to empty even well-stocked bank accounts.’ Well, I’d suggest you need to get with the times. For a start, the P38 has aged really well – find an unmodified one in a neutral colour, on the right wheels, and in good order, and it still looks fresh. Alongside the P38, an L322 looks like an over-styled, fussy thing that’s trying a little too hard.


Inside, the P38 has held up pretty well, too. The instruments are a model of clarity, the swooping centre console still looks terrific, and most are trimmed in an appealingly light shade of leather and contrasting wood. It has Rover 800 switches, but so what – they work pretty well.


Compared to a late Classic, the P38 drives well, too. Get one with working air suspension, and the tighter steering, improved ride and excellent handling will seem like a revelation. It’s like wrestling a greased Sumo in comparison with a smaller, modern car, but for a Rangie, the P38 feels pretty good. Imperious, commanding, unrushed – just how it should be.


So if you’re persuaded by my arguments, what advice can I give? Definitely plump for a petrol V8. Yes, the 2.5-litre diesel straight-six is easier to find, comes from BMW, and therefore should be reliable. But it’s not torquey enough for the job in hand – and although more economical than the V8, it’s not enough of a saving to justify the compromises. Just make sure the V8's liners are in good order and it’s not using oil or coolant as a consequence.


Stick a nice stainless-steel exhaust system on to a Rover V8 and you’ll enjoy a deep-chested, cultivated soundtrack that’s so in keeping with a well-appointed Rangie. Under-body corrosion is something to take into consideration, but nowhere near as much as with the Discovery or Classic. So just look for accident damage, around the rear arches, and never, ever buy one that’s been wading. 
Things to look for? Ah, there are many pitfalls, but the best way of tackling the job of P38 purchasing is to make sure the air suspension works (putting them on coils really spoils them, in my opinion), that all the electrical toys are in fine fettle, it has all the remote keys and they work, and that it doesn’t have immobiliser problems. Oh, and don’t underestimate the cost and awkwardness of putting a shoddy interior back into prime condition.


Stick by these pointers, and don’t be tempted by cheap sub-£1000 projects, and you’ll enjoy a go-anywhere, classless, satisfying modern classic that’ll just get better with age. And I know it’s a cliché, but I’m off to look at the classified ads now… 

Read the full featured the Range Rover Classic in the April 2018 issue of Modern Classics. Click here to buy a copy now

FIVE ALIVE: BMW M535i

The M535i may be semi-skimmed compared to the full-fat M5 but a closer look reveals an 1980s M-car bargain whose investment future is on a stellar trajectory

Words: JJ Vollans Photography: Jonathan Jacob


 

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Think you’ve missed the 1980s M-car boat? Think again. There’s still one car with that world famous blue and red trapezoid on its grille that won’t require you to re-mortgage your home. The BMW E28 M535i, which can still be found for well under £10,000. Interested? You should be… But first let's get a bit of background.
‘Of the Zealots, by the zealots, for the zealots,’ is how BMW pitched its M Division model line-up to its largest market (America) in ’87. The dictionary defines a zealot as ‘a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in the pursuit of their ideals’. Few at BMW’s M Division in Garching back in those early days would have protested at that definition of their day-to-day work.
The engineers at the Bavarian heart of BMW’s motorsport machine spent every day honing their parent companies’ products into focused race-winning machines. The knock-on result of this on-track success was the creation of some of the most inspiring road cars ever built. Sadly now the M Sport badge has been reduced to a marketing tool that drives sales rather than defines enthusiasts’ desires. 
This is why, in recent years, we’ve seen such an astonishing price rise for early cars that deserve the M badge. The first M5 commands a high price tag, and good E12 M535is start at around £25,000.  But there is salvation, and it comes in the form of the E28 M535i, which is available for less than £10,000. 

 June 2017 Issue

June 2017 Issue

Flicking the ignition key stirs the 3.4-litre six and it has to be said that it lacks a little character at idle. Unlike the M5’s M88 engine, with its powerful induction note from those individual throttle bodies, the M535i uses a standard (M30) ‘big six’ from the 535 and 635. Smooth sophistication was the goal with this engine rather than racing. As we’ll discover soon though, this engine still has a riotous dark side.

Read the full feature in the June 2017 issue of Modern Classics. Click here to buy a copy now

BMW M535i (E28)

Specifications  

Engine: 3430cc/6-cyl/SOHC

Transmission: RWD, 5-speed manual/auto

Power: 218bhp@5200rpm

Torque: 224lb-ft@4000rpm

How many left: 100 (UK)

 

What to pay:

Concours: £20,000

Good: £12,500

Usable: £7500

Project: £3500

Performance

0-60mph: 7.4sec

Top speed: 143mph (limited)

Economy: 25mpg

 

Porsche Pace British Grace

Hefty V8 surge, beautiful looks and thinning numbers all mean that now's the time to get your claws into the Jaguar XKR

Words: Keith Adams Photography: Stuart Collins


 

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The Jaguar XKR is a perfect modern classic from the maker of ready-made classics. This big cat is fast, has charismatic looks and sounds sensational, with 370-plus supercharged horses at your command. It’s a sure-fire clever money car, and one that before too long will emerge from the sub-£10,000 shadows and take its place at the big boy’s table alongside its high-profile contemporaries such as the BMW M3 and Porsche 911.

It has it on styling alone. Take a long, lingering look at Martin Lowe’s fabulous-looking Phoenix Red XKR – drink in those sensuous curves, and enjoy the way its 18in alloys fill its shapely arches to give it a perfect, raffish stance. Gaze at its power bulges, air intakes and fat exhausts and you’ll understand just why more than 20 years on from its launch, an XKR still seduces.

It will also happily show a clean pair of heels to pretty much anything on the road, while leaving its driver unruffled. Not bad for a car designed to follow on, and emerge from, that darling of superannuated middle-aged men everywhere – the E-type. Read on and find out exactly why we’re backing the XKR as a great car to enjoy – and one that'll pay you back financially in years to come.

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It’s the moment you twist the XKR’s ignition key, the 4.0-litre V8 bursting into life with a deep-chested roar, that you just know. It's the knowledge that this is a car designed for drivers – petrolheads like you. Knowing is rammed into the background by unadulterated desire when you blip the throttle. You’ll be lusting after limitless open roads and all the possibilities they promise, even before you’ve turned a wheel. But hold your horses, and let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Rewind to 1999, when Martin Lowe’s example rolled off the line in Coventry. Despite its olde worlde wooden dashboard and styling that harked back to the E-type, this was a car that bristled with technology. And all intended to make the drive all the more thrilling…

Read the full feature in the March 2017 issue of Modern Classics. Click here to buy a copy now

 

Jaguar XKR 4.0 X100

Specifications  

Engine: 3996cc/V8/DOHC

Transmission: RWD, 5-speed automatic

Power: 370bhp@6150rpm

Torque: 387lb-ft@3600rpm

How many left: 910 (UK)

 

What to pay:

Concours: £22,500

Good: £15,000

Usable: £10,000

Project: £4,000

Performance

0-60mph: 5.2sec

Top speed: 155mph (limited)

Economy: 15-22mpg

 

The man who brought Ford in from the cold

The man who brought Ford in from the cold: Richard Parry-Jones

Words Nathan Chadwick Pictures Simon Thompson

This interview is part of Modern Classics magazine’s May 2018 celebration of the Ford Focus’s 20th birthday, which features a dream drive in an RS and details on why you should pick up an ST170 right now. Find out more here


 

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 ‘I was all packed and ready to run a factory in Valencia,’ says Richard. ‘I had my house and school sorted, and then I got a phone call. “We want you to go back to research and development, and take over vehicle engineering,” they said. “We’re in trouble.’”

For Richard Parry-Jones, the call was irresistible. After all, he is Blue Oval through and through – he started as an undergraduate trainee engineer in 1969. The son of slate miner, his passion for engineering came from watching the RAC Rally. He’d played an important part in the game-changing MkIII Escort and Sierra. Ford, reeling in the wake of the disastrous Escort MkV launch and the vital Mondeo project stuttering, needed his help desperately – so Spanish lessons were put on hold. It was the lessons learned during the Mondeo project that went on to help make the Focus so great.

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And boy did they need him. The Escort MkV had been a disaster, one borne out of an old-school mentality, according to Richard. ‘I’d worked for Ford for 20 years and for most of that time, the company was really good at selling to fleets, and didn’t really sell to retail buyers – hence the focus on costs. Fleet buyers didn’t really get a choice, and the price is what determines the fleet manager’s decision. As such, there wasn’t much about that the user actually wanted,’ he explains. But big changes were afoot – the Japanese and French had become wise to the profit margins possible in the UK market. ‘As the market changed and more user/choosers came in, more imports took away Ford’s margin, then profitability evaporated.’

The reception to the Escort MkV truly shocked senior management at Ford. Worse still, its critical Sierra replacement, the Mondeo, was heading the same way. ‘The project had started off quite well,’ says Richard. ‘It had been the first attempt to build a car in a scientific manner, but somewhere between the advanced prototype team and the production team the message had got lost.’

When he arrived, the was in bad shape, and was behind schedule – but it wasn’t fatally flawed. ‘It was just a bit mishandled – I found that many targets for stiffness and so on had been set, but not enforced. I began to ask what was needed to fix it.’

Richard never accepts the answer that it can’t be done. ‘The only question is how can we do it? It might take too much time, or too much money, or it might take both. But give me some options – don’t say it can’t be done, show me how,’ he says. ‘This approach is quite refreshing for engineers. They are very smart people and realised that they couldn’t go to meetings and say it’s impossible. It’s amazing how once you start that conversation how inventive people become. Eventually they start having fun!’

It still took time – there were plenty of six-hour meetings to sit through. ‘I was chief engineer and I knew I couldn’t really do this – but I had to. I had to train and teach them the skills and set standards they’d lost over many years.’

He quickly sought to change the company’s entire philosophy. ‘We needed to make these cars appealing to ordinary retail buyers, not fleets. They must be something people desire and then really enjoy owning – a fundamental change. I had a lot of people fighting me, but there were a lot of people hurting from the Escort launch and wanted a change. Luckily I had two bosses, Albert Caspers and John Alford, who absolutely wanted a change. So whenever I ran into internal trouble, I would go before the bosses and they would listen to the case for and against, and they started to back me. Eventually it was easy because everyone knew there was no point going to the bosses – people found they may as well do what I want.’  

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The Mondeo turned out to be a great success, and won European Car of the Year and proved to be a sales hit. This, along with the successful launches of the Puma and KA, plus the well-received Fiesta and Escort facelifts, gave Parry-Jones the clout he needed to make the Focus the way he wanted.

There were key lessons learned from the Mondeo, which he imbued into all future products. Firstly, the appliance of science, data and not settling for ‘that’ll do’. The other, Richard says, was much more personal and had a lot to do with multiple Formula One champion Jackie Stewart. Ironically, it was about doing things slowly. ‘My evaluation skills weren’t bad, but when I watched him evaluate and talk about a car I thought my God, this is a different league. I spent a lot of time with him, watching and learning, observing. He was very open, sharing everything, and I emerged from that 18-month period with a Mondeo that I’d been able to tune to a very good level. The whole team had a whole new skill set.’

As a result of this, the way cars were evaluated started to change. A new method of evaluation was launched – the 50-Metre Test. It’s subsequently become industry standard. ‘What Jackie taught me was that a lot of engineers and journalists go to tests or press days and the car is presented full to the brim, the engine is warm and running, the door is open. They then get in the car and drive flat out round the track, and learn nothing,’ says Richard. ‘Jackie told me this is the wrong approach. Instead, insist the car is parked overnight, not moved, not started and ideally only fuelled half-way. You arrive to a cold car, and do everything yourself, even opening the door.’

For a generation of pampered journalists this must have been torture. Richard continues, ‘You listen to the noise and feel the compliance of the handle, you slow down everything to create the time window to absorb detail.’

It’s unlikely any customer goes to this level of evaluation, but Richard points out that they do it hundreds and thousands of times, so they find everything that’s wrong. ‘Our job – we don’t have long, and there’s not many of us – is to find everything a customer might find. So we need to slow it down to analyse these things, and find out what might be causing it from our senses. We could then measure everything.’

This measurement focus applied to other cars. ‘If we found good compliance in a door handle, say the VW Golf, we’d measure it. If we liked it, we’d quantify it and set a target. Not only the ‘number’, but the curve of effort to travel. We set targets for everything.’

The 50-metre test’s aim is to use the first interaction with the vehicle to learn a lot about the quality. ‘Slow everything down – don’t even start the engine,’ says Richard. ‘Don’t even get in the car, start these things with the handle. Have a look, is it inviting? What’s your impression? Touch things, not in a superficial way. Then get in, close the door, operate the glovebox, the stalks and so on.’

Simply jumping in a car just won’t do, Richard points out. ‘Without the engine running, you hear the sound quality much better. It’s not masked, you’re able to absorb everything. Then eventually, after at least five minutes, you’re allowed to start the engine – but you’re not allowed to drive off.  You analyse how it started, and then shut it down; how did it shut down? Start it again – how did it sound, how did it vibrate? You operate different things – is there play in the throttle and so on.’

Eventually you can drive off – but only at car park speed. ‘This allows you to test for steering friction – it’s easy to make steering light for high speeds, but at low speeds that’s really something good. I’d summarise this to my engineers – imagine you had to do your entire evaluation in fifty metres. Instead of the usual testing – redlining it everywhere – this method allows you to find things you might otherwise miss in the hurly burly and excitement.’

The critical part of the Focus, and the chief reason why it handles so well, is the Control Blade rear suspension. However, though it was on the car very early in the project, its inclusion wasn’t all plain sailing. ‘It was fundamental. If you’re convinced about something, you have to fight for it. I had all the data, and I was convinced we could deliver ride comfort, good NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), steering and handling that no other manufacturer with twist beam suspension could do. Even so, it cost an extra fifty dollars per car.’ That might not be a problem for a premium brand, but for Ford, and its public perception, it was a tricky sell. ‘Will people pay extra for that? No, they won’t – not immediately. But they might buy the car and recommend it to their friends,’ he explains. ‘It’s not really about price; it’s about reducing discount, driving volume and converting loyalty and brand image. It’s an investment, really. When it came to the crunch, the management I worked for backed me, and for that I’m grateful. More importantly, I think all the customers were grateful too.’

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The Focus team knew it was a good design, but there was more to come. ‘We didn’t know how good it was until we discovered how much more we could do with the car as a result of this design.’

As for benchmarks, ‘the Volkswagen Golf was obviously the focus – pardon the pun’ – but the biggest influence on steering and handling came from within Ford – the Fiesta MkIII. ‘It just didn’t have the rear axle we wanted,’ says Richard.  ‘Unlike the Fiesta or the Mondeo, where we used the Peugeot 205 and Nissan Primera as benchmarks, we couldn’t really find something. I learned that if you over-specify something, you copy them, rather than overtake them.’

The atmosphere in the project was upbeat and positive. ‘We’d turned the ship around and started to aspire to be delivering the best products, not the cheapest. The problem is that the customer doesn’t automatically see that, so your prices are pinned down by your past reputation. But your costs go in to match the aspiration. We had to be quite cunning – we couldn’t spend that much money,’ Richard says.

He believes it’s much easier to build an exotic car than a mainstream one. ‘In a mass-market car you have so many cost constraints – you have to be very innovative without using exotic parts, without spending money – you have to use brains. All the special bits in the Focus are mild stamped steel – there’s nothing fancy. It’s all about trying to find the performance you want, using physics to analyse carefully and to synthesise a simple solution.’

That plays into Richard’s wider philosophy. ‘The simplest design is the best design. ‘You have to factor in a certain amount of feeling, of soul, of taste. You have to work on how you present the car, work out what you want the emotional response of the customer to be – you can’t do everything by the numbers,’ Richard admits. ‘But I’m very data driven. If you get the numbers right first, using analysis, measurement and calculation to avoid making basic mistakes in the design, you buy yourself the freedom and the right to tinker and perfect the product, not spend all your time fixing problems. If you have a bad design, you have no time to caress and polish it, to get these subtleties right.’

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Getting the design right was the biggest early challenge. In the early 1990s, contemporary design trends pointed towards family cars imbued with sporty styling – Richard cites the Mazda 323F as a good example. There was another trend appearing – taller cars, such as the Fiat Panda. ‘This was a clever response to the fact people were getting taller and heavier, and they needed more space. People were also starting to get more and more stuff, and stuff needs space in the car,’ Richard explains.

Most of the early sketches were low-slung, Mazda-style designs. One from a UK stylist, caused him to stop and think – it added 60mm to the height of the car. ‘It was taller, but not by much,’ he says. ‘For the same length, we got a lot more interior space. I asked the designers to do a study based on this.’

At the time there was a big push within Ford for a bustle-back design, something the Escort was always famous for. ‘Even the 323F was a bustle back design,’ says Richard. But when the designers returned with their work, Richard wasn’t happy. ‘It looked like a Mazda 121! It looked like a Noddy Car. I said aw, shit, we’ve got to abandon the bustle-back and go to a Kamm tale.’

Despite some reservations from the German design team, work carried on. Richard still wasn’t happy. ‘It all started looking predictable. I wanted to go into the studio each week and go wow, and it wasn’t happening. We were running out of time.’

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The pressure was on. The team knew they had the package – the seating layout proved the interior dimensions worked well. The aero was looking very good, too. ‘But the design looked ordinary. But there was a young designer who showed me a sketch that looked interesting. I came back after two weeks, and they’d modelled it one side of a clay model, and on the other something else. This was the first time we’d put the headlamp high, and we blended it with the window graphic, in the way many people do now. It was new and dynamic in those days,’ Richard explains. ‘I said wow – you’ve found a way of making the car not look tall. We have all the space but it doesn’t look ungainly. If you look carefully, the roof has a curve in it, but it curves around the corner. The upper part of the glass dives lower than the roof, creating an arrow. The graphic of the window telegraphs a different story. Light up there at the back allows us to finish the roof like a cantilever, a hanging frame, without a pillar. I looked at all this and I thought, my God, I like this. Then we sent it out to research.’

The Focus’s styling may not seem too avant-garde, but back in the 1990s only the Alfa Romeo 145 and perhaps the Citroen ZX offered anything like as much extrovert styling in the mainstream car class. Richard knew the Focus would be polarising – but that was a good thing. ‘The thing about research is you have to be careful – don’t copy the winner. The winner is not the car that scores the best, you have to look behind the data, look at the people’s propensity to adopt change,’ he explains. ‘You show them other non-car items, like cooking implements and so on, so you can map them to see if they’re leaders or followers in design. Then you take the leaders and analyse their scores. On average, a design might polarise the responses, but this is an exercise to extract from the polarised data who are the people who’ll lead opinion, and favour those answers.’

Richard also spent a lot of time at customer clinics, and proved critical to the design’s forward momentum. ‘I would stand in the corner and watch the respondents that had been briefed in the anteroom, then come around the corner with the design,’ explains Richard. ‘I’m not only interested in their writing, but also their body language. I’m looking for how they react when they first see the car. The finished design caused more than at third of respondents to stop and go wow. That’s when I knew that was the one.’

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The interior, now the source of some mirth among some enthusiasts – including our editor – was very nearly, very different. ‘We had two themes in the final run off. One was more symmetrical, more rectilinear, and the one in the finished car. The one that we have now matches the exterior, and matches its swagger,’ Richard explains. ‘I think we got the broad brushstrokes okay, but to be candid I don’t think we got the calm cohesion of the German manufacturers. Ours had a lot going on, it’s very busy. I don’t think we had the right knowledge, or perhaps the money, to get the right materials with the right level of touch and finish. The interior might have been better, if I hadn’t spent 50 dollars on the rear suspension…’

Though the project was now gaining serious momentum, there were some challenges. During development, Volkswagen stepped up their galvanising programme and offered twelve-year corrosion guarantees. This was a big statement, and Richard believed this was a big value enhancer. ‘I decided we had to do it too. We did a six-week study and found it wasn’t hard to implement, even though it came quite late in the car’s development. It goes back to the philosophy – if you get most things right, you’re not panicking so you’ve got time to absorb one or two hits and deal with them.’

One early decision was to lose the Escort name. ‘Once we moved to a kamm rear rather than bustle back, which the Escort was known for, we knew we had to leave the Escort in the past,’ Richard says. ‘Once we realised the depth of engineering and what we planned for the Focus, we knew the Escort name would become an anchor to its wider desirability – the Escort MkV ruined the Escort name beyond recall.’ However, the Focus name didn’t come until much later in the project. ‘We didn’t know it was going to be called Focus until late. The process took three to four months, until then it was known as C170.’

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One area where the Focus was miles ahead of almost every Ford that preceded it was the improvements in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Richard says the appliance of science was key – almost reverse engineering the car. ‘We created car soundtracks in the computer and eventually came up with the right sound for road, engine and impact noise. We used a jury of employees who were nothing to do with the problem to provide an overall view. Then we created computer models to cascade this end result target down through the system.’

But there is more to it than computer trickery. ‘If we take powertrain noise, it’s the product of excitation and response. Excitation takes two paths – one is structural, one is airborne. You have two transfer functions. For the airborne noise, it’s all about attenuation at the source. For example, you engineer all the brackets for the accessories and the mounts to have a resonant frequency higher than the peak second order (on a four-cylinder engine). That usually means 500hz minimum, so the bracket will never resonate engine noise, creating a boom. Then you go down to look at the isolation performance, and decouple the important mounting features of the powertrain system from the isolation features. You arrange the mounts to allow you to decouple those, then you look at airborne noise, then minimise the emission. The key is to put excellent sealing in place – most airborne noise isn’t transmitted by panels, it is leaked through holes. We pressurise the inside of the car and measure the rate of the leakage. It takes science, determination and resolve.’

Richard always wanted the Focus to have very good steering and handling, but the team went further than other cars by combining that with good NVH and ride. ‘I insisted you can’t offer a car to Ford customers where it’s only for enthusiasts, where the handling and steering are fantastic but it’s not good for every day. We have to offer the whole package. You have to offer the ride quality, quietness and refinement. The steering and the handling are a bit of a bonus, rather than an either/or. Nobody had done that before, and that’s not what the Golf was trying to do. It wasn’t just the Focus’s rear suspension, but it was the key enabler.’

Richard didn’t get his way with everything, however. ‘On the early MkI Focus, there’s an ungainly bumper indicator, but if you look at the headlamp you’ll see a cut-out section that has space for the indicator. It was always meant to go there, but the electrics and light people said that it would block headlight output. So we had to come up with a clumsy solution. I must have argued for weeks and months about that. I was convinced we could make it work,’ Richard said. ‘I didn’t win that one, and I forgot about it. Then I was in America from the end of 1997 to look after global R&D. Then I noticed this facelift (Mk1.5), and the indicator had moved to the headlight. I went back to the guys and said “I thought you said we couldn’t do this?” They said, “oh, we had another look and went back to the calculations and we were wrong.”’

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But every project has to end at some point. ‘When you’re developing a car, it’s normal to be paranoid. You can never relax, you can always find something to improve. In that way I’m a perfectionist,’ he explains. ‘I define perfectionism as somebody who redefines it as they approach it. Once you’ve ironed out three or four noise problems, suddenly you can see more problems that didn’t bother you before. The Focus team was always driving for perfection.’ There still had to be a time to call it a day, however. ‘I’m also a pragmatist. Although I could have carried on improving it, I knew we had a car we could be proud of. So I said let’s finish – it’s time to stabilise production and make sure not just the prototypes are great, but every bloody car.’

The team knew the car was good, but they weren’t prepared for the accolades it received. ‘We didn’t realise the journalist, public and competitors would go, “Shit! The game’s changed, we need to do something to respond.” I’m told the Focus changed the way the entire industry engineered all cars for dynamics. Less so for NVH, but even there this framework where you had to have good dynamics OR good NVH was largely abandoned. That’s professionally very satisfying.’

That was the key to keeping the team, er, focused during the car’s gestation period. ‘Most of the people had helped design the Escort. The skill and passion was there, we just needed to harness it. We needed to let people feel they were producing world winners, rather than things that would get slammed – that makes work fun rather than torture. The key is to build inter-dependency, so you can use everybody’s knowledge and they feel that they are making a difference, however small a piece they’re involved with.’

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The Focus was one part of the Ford 2000 project, which sought to consolidate global Blue Oval resources to create a true world car. It’s always been seen as a tricky job – what might suit a mother in Margate might not suit a miner is Massachusetts, after all. ‘People would say, ah typical Europeans, this would never work. But I’d say Toyota does it. If they can do it, we can too,’ Richard says. ‘The biggest problem wasn’t tuning a car for the North American market. We could get a design that both markets liked. The biggest issue we had were the tyres. North America uses all-season tyres, which were never as good for ride or handling as European seasonal tyres. They’ve got a lot better in the meantime, but in those days, there was a big difference.’

The car was received well, and is still the first and only car to win car of the year titles in North America and Europe. Everyone from Jeremy Clarkson to Prince William were spotted buying or, in the case of the latter, learning to drive in it. The Ford PR team didn’t know this until it was on the front-page of almost every UK newspaper!

On the subject of Clarkson, Richard smiles. ‘He was very sceptical about stability control at the time of its launch. The Focus was the second car in the world market to have it available (as an option). Jeremy came to the Normandy launch and the PR guys had told us he was questioning the system’s worth, calling it a waste of time – so we devised a test,’ Richard says. ‘One car had stability control switched on, and another had it switched off. We set up a lane change test on the racetrack, and I said, Jeremy, let me show you the difference. We drive up to the lane change at increasing steps of 5kmh, and we mark the car’s performance on a pass/fail basis. You pass if you don’t hit any markers, so you have to be precise. In the car without stability control, I fail. I also fail in the enabled car too, but at a much higher speed. Jeremy’s finding this interesting and I tell him to have a go. He tried to beat the system, and couldn’t. He turned to me and goes, “You bastard, it works doesn’t it?”’

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There were lessons to be learned. The Renault Megane Scenic was hugely popular; the Focus was too optimised for its four body styles to be adapted into an SUV. That thinking went into the Focus MkII from the start. The rise of diesels was also unforeseen, with a modern unit coming late in the MkI’s product cycle.

But what about the sporty models? Enthusiast magazines raved about the Focus in a way they hadn’t done about mainstream cars before. The 1999 Geneva Motorshow Focus Cosworth concept car hinted at something special, but it would take until 2002 for the ST170 to be released. This might seem ill at odds with Richard’s history. After all, he was inspired to become an engineer watching the RAC Rally, his first company car was an Escort RS2000, and his favourite was the Sierra RS500 Cosworth. He’s only recently given up rallying a Fiesta ST with his wife as co-driver, and after our interview he was off to the Monte Carlo Rally to support Elfyn Evans. Motorsport has always been in his blood, so why the delay? ‘I’d spent my youth driving a lot of Fords, aspiring to drive fast ones – Lotus Cortinas, Escort Twin Cams. However, the base cars were never that good,’ he says.

‘My instinct was to engineer lots of sporty cars. When we were doing the MkIII XR3, it was just me and a colleague. It eventually sold 125,000 units and made a lot of money for Ford, and it was our lease car.’

But when he came back to engineering, there was so much work to be done on the mainstream models, Richard had to inverse his priorities. ‘I had to make all the base cars really good, rather than settle for “that’ll do”, and let the hobbyist in me focus on the sporty models. I didn’t want to fall into the same trap my predecessors had done.’

The lack of suitable powertrains was also an issue. ‘Even with the ST170, we knew it didn’t have enough power, but it was the best we could do at the time.’

Despite that, Richard still has a fondness for the ST170. ‘It definitely had to be useable, accessible, without ridiculous insurance, have manageable tyre costs but an extra dose of fun,’ he explains. ‘I like the car – it’s very subtle. The RS is like a fist in your face, the ST170’s a velvet glove. It’s a lovely car to hustle along a great road, the (nearby) A458 for example. You can carry speed through every corner; you don’t need a lot of power as the handling and grip are so good, and the steering is uncorrupted.’

Richard was less involved in the RS – he’d moved on to America by then, but he concedes that it came to the product cycle far too late. That mistake wouldn’t be repeated for the MkII Focus RS, which he was deeply involved with.

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Nearly 25 years on since the project started, and 20 years since its launch, Richard looks back on that time fondly. ‘We had to work some ridiculous hours, but when you get the outcome you don’t mind,’ he says. ‘I was only 40 at the time, and to have the chance to do a car like that, and be trusted by the senior board and investors to spend around $3 billion was just amazing.’

Looking back at the Focus legacy, and the transformative effect the car had on the brand and market segment, that fifty dollars spent on extra pressed steel was well worth the investment.

But it took hard work, determination, faith, science and persuasion to make it happen. And that’s perhaps the biggest part of how the Focus came to be so great. The last word goes to Richard. ‘The three key pillars for persuasion are: do you have a compelling business framework? Do you have the scientific evidence, the data, which will support your argument that you can deliver what your promise? Then you have to show them how – which is codename for make them believe you can make it happen.’ And the third pillar? ‘Personal conviction. The boss may be looking at you and saying everything looks good on paper, but can I trust this person to deliver? Are they committed to deliver, even when they hit difficulties? You have to use your passionate conviction to convince them you can do it. The bad news is that you need all three – no one pillar can be missing.’

NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY, VERY NAUGHTY

The Vauxhall Astra GTE MkI lasted 15 months, and has been forgotten – but now, with so few left, it's a true star.

Words: Nigel Boothman Photography: Andy McCandlish


 

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Fancy it? Everyone seems to. It’s hard to come up with any other hot hatch of the era that produces the same level of ‘phwoarr’. An Astra GTE MkI, in white, in near-perfect condition, seems to be the one Luton product every car nut of a certain age would like to try.

Maybe it’s the rarity. The first Astras, with their origami styling and water-soluble wheel arches, disappeared pretty quickly. The MkI GTE was only offered from April 1983 to August ’84, so there were never many of them to start with. Yet enough were sold to form a reputation for agility, speed and all-round ‘rightness’ that had many owners of Golfs and Escorts wondering if they’d made the wrong choice. Now those same owners are still gagging for a go in one.

How did Vauxhall do it? It’s tempting to suggest blind luck, because you can’t deny that the Astra GTE was an afterthought. VW started selling the Golf GTI with RHD in 1979 and Ford’s new Escort came with an XR3 version from launch in 1980, then from ’82 the RS1600i and XR3i. That year also saw the first warm Astra, the 90bhp carb-fed SR. It wasn’t enough.

The solution involved dropping in the 1.8-litre, LE-Jetronic engine from the Cavalier SRi. With 115bhp in a car weighing under a ton, Vauxhall had something to boast about. It wasn’t the finished article but found its market. Two things helped: lairy marketing slogans like ‘NOUGHT TO NAUGHTY NAUGHTY IN 8.5 SECONDS’, and glowing praise from mags. 

It’s due for a bit more of that shortly, but before we climb aboard let’s remember something. There may be as few as nine MkI GTEs on the road in the UK. Among those, this one is unrestored. It’s had a bit of paint but it’s basically a long-stored survivor carefully re-commissioned, de-modified and buffed to show-winning condition. A Ferrari F40 is common by comparison...

The moment Mark McClelland steers his white GTE into the car park, I’m back in 1991. No, the Astra wouldn’t have been new then, but it was recent enough to be respectable and yet old enough to be within reach, at least in theory. I was 17 and in possession of my first car, which just happened to be a white Vauxhall. Only mine was a 1975 Viva SL with a tiger-fur seat cover and radio-cassette screwed to a piece of plywood by my right knee. It was less than ten years older than the GTE but might as well have come from a different century.

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So whenever I was putting a fiver’s worth of four-star into the Viva and some hair-gelled hero in a GTE growled to a halt at the next pump, the over-riding emotion was jealousy. And that’s what comes back now, until I suddenly remember I’m going to be driving this one. About time, too.

Having slapped the door shut, the driver’s environment takes me by surprise – maybe it’s not as far from the Viva as I thought. The dash is a cliff of hard black plastic and the wheel seems large and rather skinny, positioned down near my lap. But the bucket seats are superb and the rorty noise from a couple of feet further forward is very promising. Blimey, that unassisted steering – you forget that even small cars could need a hefty effort through the wheel at parking speeds. The designers probably didn’t envisage boots as large as these modest 185/60 R14s.

It soon lightens up once you’re moving and the Astra’s preferred mode of travel becomes obvious: rev, change, rev, change, every few seconds. Apparently the first ones were criticised for being overgeared, so when a close-ratio box came along, as fitted to this car, the overall gearing was lowered too. It helps the GTE make the most of its power – there isn’t a lot of torque – but you need to keep it boiling to travel fast. At one point, I drop it into fourth and I’m surprised to see only 43mph. These first-gen 1980s hatches certainly feel faster than they really are… or do they?

Mark points out that the speedo is under-reading by something between 10 and 13mph. That would explain it, though on roads like this in the Ayrshire hills around Kilmarnock, you’re never far from a bend that makes you think hard about slowing down. Here’s where the Astra scores. It’s just as safe to chuck around as a Golf but it has more poise and less bias towards understeer. It feels nimble, but never alarming in the way a clumsily-handled 205 GTI can do. It also stops very well and changes gear nicely, albeit with a bit of a baulk between some of the intermediate slots. Still, try finding an unrestored, 30-year-old Golf that’s any better. 

How does it make you feel? Naughty, if I’m honest. A man emerges from a house by the road, ostensibly to put the bins out, but I’m convinced he’s actually heard us blatting up and down and has stomped outside to disapprove. It takes all my self control not to screech round on the handbrake and go haring past him again with that tangerine tachometer needle swinging clockwise. 

On one level, the Astra feels dated thanks to the drinks-tray cabin plastics, wind-up windows and doors as thin as a Rich Tea biscuit. It wouldn’t be relaxing on the motorway despite that fifth gear, with 70mph nudging the 4000rpm mark. But on another level it’s a properly exciting, well-balanced little tool that still offers about as many thrills as you can safely or legally use on a B-road. That’s because you’re exactly the right distance from the raw driving experience: it’s a practical, reliable, comfortable car but everything – hands, feet, ears, arse – receives feedback from the road. Later hot hatches increased power as well as luxury, but almost all lost some of that rawness and simplicity.

Maybe the Astra’s even more at home tearing around the one-way system, using the close-ratio box and neat steering to carve up the traffic. There’s a TV ad campaign running at the moment for the Smart ForTwo Brabus, describing the warmed over micro-machine as an ‘urban sports car’. Sorry, Smart… you’re about 35 years late to the party. Hot hatchbacks defined that idea and this Astra is as good as any of them. 

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We’ve nearly missed the boat with the MkI GTE. No one would suggest that MkI Golf GTIs are endangered, and though the XR3i isn’t an everyday sight there are other hot Escorts to choose from and a huge ‘fast Ford’ scene to keep them alive. 

Vauxhall’s following is more fragmented; people who like Droop Snoot Firenzas or 3-litre Senators probably aren’t into FWD hot hatches, and the MkI and MkII Astras have different owners’ clubs. 

And yet… there’s that reaction we mentioned right at the beginning. Everyone seems to love the GTE. When the owner of this car put a photo of it next to a Lamborghini on Facebook, it went viral, attracting hundreds of comments all saying much the same thing – stuff the Italian machine, I want the Astra.

Some startling auction prices for 1980s Escorts in the last 18 months tell us all we need to know about where MkI GTE values are heading. Modified ones are being put back to standard, rough ones are worth restoring and values will soon shock owners of MkI Golfs. At long last, it looks like the Astra GTE is getting the recognition it always deserved.

But this is more than just an appreciating asset. It's a trip back to when social networking meant nightclubs and car meets. Though new hatches and the internet may be 'better', they're not as much fun, are they?

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Vauxhall Astra MkI GTE

Specifications  

Engine: 1796cc/4-cyl/OHC

Transmission: FWD, 5-speed manual

Power: 115bhp@5800rpm

Torque: 111lb-ft@4800rpm

Weight: 950kg

Performance

0-60mph: 8.9sec

Top speed: 115mph

Economy: 27mpg

What to pay:

Concours: £15,000

Good: £10,000

Usable: £7000

Project: £2500

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BAHNSTORMERS

Buchloe and Munich fought it out with each other to make the best go-faster E28 5 Series, but was it the tuner or factory who triumphed?

Words: Chris Chilton Pictures: Neil Fraser


 

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Organ pedal flattened, big six wailing, wind hammering against the old-fashioned upright, slim-framed windscreen: going hell for leather in a classic fast Five is one of our favourite pastimes. And thanks to the success of the second-generation E28 5 Series, there are plenty to choose from.

BMW launched the 5 Series way back in 1972, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that it really found its mojo. Modifications to the styling and chassis of the original E12, and an even greater spread of powertrains, helped the E28 become the go-to big sports saloon, drawing Brits away from their traditional high-end Rovers, Fords
and Vauxhalls and pushing BMW into the big time.

With the E28 5 Series, BMW got serious about performance Fives. And no factory-built E28 was more serious than the original M5. Here was a car that looked like a sports saloon but had the engine of a supercar and all the comfort and refinement of the world’s best luxury cruisers.

Back in the 1980s, neither Mercedes-Benz nor Audi dealers had anything comparable to offer. Alpina did though, as it had began offering its own high performance E28s long before BMW got around to it. But which was best, BMW’s own M5, or Alpina’s quite different take, the B10?

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Before you’ve so much as glanced at the technical credentials of this pair, there’s every chance you’ll have found a favourite just by looking at them.

The M5 is the soul of discretion, and many were even more so, because this particular example has the optional body kit more normally associated with its contemporary M535i little brother. 

That kit comprises a set of side skirts and entirely new front and rear bumper units that, together with another option fitted here, the ‘shadowline’ blackout treatment on the window surrounds, banishes all hint of chrome.

Even the handsome cross-spoke BBS wheels, shared with the contemporary E30 M3, don’t draw too much attention, while a modest M badge on the front grille, and an M5 logo on the rear offers very little resembling a clue that this thing was nearly as quick as a Ferrari 308.

And then there’s the Alpina. If the M5 is as coolly reserved as Spandau Ballet, then its Buchloe rival is Sigue Sigue Sputnik, shamelessly shouting about its performance potential – and in marked contrast to the genteel approach taken by modern Alpinas.

There’s much more of a late ’70s touring car look about it with that huge cowcatcher front spoiler and lairy love ’em or hate ’em optional graphics along the flanks. That front air dam and the subtle rear valance cover work neatly with the original chrome bumpers. The porn star ’tache rear boot lid spoiler gives the E28’s bulbous rear end a very different look than the more modern colour coded item perched atop the M5’s rear deck.

The iconic cotton-reel wheels, though, they’re the making of this car. They’re 16in in diameter, like the M5’s, but instead of being 7.5in wide all round, they measure 7in across at the nose and a more fulsome 8in at the back to really fill those rear arches. Later E28 Alpinas switched to the more modern design with a flush lockable centre cap, though still featuring 20 spokes (most replica wheels only have 19, and don’t look right). But the early style with the exposed lugs and black centres suit the E28 far better, giving the whole car a loutish demeanour.

Alpina had been selling thuggish Fives like the B6 and nutty turbocharged 300bhp B7 since the 1970s, the B referring to engines based on BMW’s big-block straight six, and the number relating to Alpina’s development of it. So when BMW launched the E28 in 1981, Alpina lost no time creating its own, introducing the B9 before the year’s end.

A B9 is very similar in concept and style to the car you see here but it used the early version of BMW’s M30 3.5-litre six seen in the first E24 635i coupés, but never offered in a factory E28. With a modified Alpina cylinder head, higher compression Mahle pistons and a new camshaft, Alpina pushed power from the stock 218bhp to 245bhp, way above the 184bhp you got from the 528i, the hottest factory-produced 5 Series at the time. Then in 1985 Alpina switched to the shorter-stroke M30 3.5 that BMW was now fitting to its cars, including its own M535i, and gave the upgraded model a new name: B10.

Lift the bonnet of the M5 though, and you’re presented with something altogether more epic. Still 3.5-litres, still based around a heavy cast iron block canted over to fit under the bonnet, but topped with a 24-valve twin-cam head. This wasn’t quite the motor fitted to the M1 supercar, but it was close enough.

I owned an E28 M5 once, and I loved the way it looked, hunkered down (or possibly just sagging under the weight of its 150,000 miles) on its BBS rims, the bodykit-free Dolphin Grey paint and shadowline trim giving it a real mean presence. But it was a £1000 hound, and this one – car  No 185 of only 187 right-hookers – is an absolute peach. No surprise then that I reach for the M5’s keys first.

This particular car feels so good it’s hard to believe it’s done the same 150,000 miles as my nail had. The gear linkage is tight, the diff is quiet and even the recirculating ball steering feels reasonably on form. 

And oh, that engine. Breathing through six throttle bodies, the response feels deliciously urgent after the turbocharged 2015 AMG E63 I arrived at the shoot in, even if the performance isn’t anywhere near as dramatic. Don’t get me wrong though, this is still a quick car. The M88 3.5 makes 286bhp at 6500rpm, which is enough to push it to 60mph in 6secs, 100mph in around 15, and eventually on to 150mph. But it’s deceptive. You could jump in and pootle around without realising its true potential at all. In fact, as with the exterior, there aren’t many interior clues to this car’s performance heart.

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Before you’ve so much as glanced at the technical credentials of this pair, there’s every chance you’ll have found a favourite just by looking at them.

The M5 is the soul of discretion, and many were even more so, because this particular example has the optional body kit more normally associated with its contemporary M535i little brother. 

That kit comprises a set of side skirts and entirely new front and rear bumper units that, together with another option fitted here, the ‘shadowline’ blackout treatment on the window surrounds, banishes all hint of chrome.

Even the handsome cross-spoke BBS wheels, shared with the contemporary E30 M3, don’t draw too much attention, while
a modest M badge on the front grille, and an M5 logo on the rear offers very little resembling a clue that this thing was nearly as quick as a Ferrari 308.

And then there’s the Alpina. If the M5 is as coolly reserved as Spandau Ballet, then its Buchloe rival is Sigue Sigue Sputnik, shamelessly shouting about its performance potential – and in marked contrast to the genteel approach taken by modern Alpinas.

There’s much more of a late ’70s touring car look about it with that huge cowcatcher front spoiler and lairy love ’em or hate ’em optional graphics along the flanks. That front air dam and the subtle rear valance cover work neatly with the original chrome bumpers. The porn star ’tache rear boot lid spoiler gives the E28’s bulbous rear end a very different look than the more modern colour coded item perched atop the M5’s rear deck.

The iconic cotton-reel wheels, though, they’re the making of this car. They’re 16in in diameter, like the M5’s, but instead of being 7.5in wide all round, they measure 7in across at the nose and a more fulsome 8in at the back to really fill those rear arches. Later E28 Alpinas switched to the more modern design with a flush lockable centre cap, though still featuring 20 spokes (most replica wheels only have 19, and don’t look right). But the early style with the exposed lugs and black centres suit the E28 far better, giving the whole car a loutish demeanour.

Alpina had been selling thuggish Fives like the B6 and nutty turbocharged 300bhp B7 since the 1970s, the B referring to engines based on BMW’s big-block straight six, and the number relating to Alpina’s development of it. So when BMW launched the E28 in 1981, Alpina lost no time creating its own, introducing the B9 before the year’s end.

A B9 is very similar in concept and style to the car you see here but it used the early version of BMW’s M30 3.5-litre six seen in the first E24 635i coupés, but never offered in a factory E28. With a modified Alpina cylinder head, higher compression Mahle pistons and a new camshaft, Alpina pushed power from the stock 218bhp to 245bhp, way above the 184bhp you got from the 528i, the hottest factory-produced 5 Series at the time. Then in 1985 Alpina switched to the shorter-stroke M30 3.5 that BMW was now fitting to its cars, including its own M535i, and gave the upgraded model a new name: B10.

Lift the bonnet of the M5 though, and you’re presented with something altogether more epic. Still 3.5-litres, still based around a heavy cast iron block canted over to fit under the bonnet, but topped with a 24-valve twin-cam head. This wasn’t quite the motor fitted to the M1 supercar, but it was close enough.

I owned an E28 M5 once, and I loved the way it looked, hunkered down (or possibly just sagging under the weight of its 150,000 miles) on its BBS rims, the bodykit-free Dolphin Grey paint and shadowline trim giving it a real mean presence. But it was a £1000 hound, and this one – car  No 185 of only 187 right-hookers – is an absolute peach. No surprise then that I reach for the M5’s keys first.

This particular car feels so good it’s hard to believe it’s done the same 150,000 miles as my nail had. The gear linkage is tight, the diff is quiet and even the recirculating ball steering feels reasonably on form. 

And oh, that engine. Breathing through six throttle bodies, the response feels deliciously urgent after the turbocharged 2015 AMG E63 I arrived at the shoot in, even if the performance isn’t anywhere near as dramatic. Don’t get me wrong though, this is still a quick car. The M88 3.5 makes 286bhp at 6500rpm, which is enough to push it to 60mph in 6secs, 100mph in around 15, and eventually on to 150mph. But it’s deceptive. You could jump in and pootle around without realising its true potential at all. In fact, as with the exterior, there aren’t many interior clues to this car’s performance heart.

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There are some smart sports seats, and there’s air conditioning and a trip computer. Regular high-end 5 Series stuff. But then you notice the little 'M' flash on the three-spoke wheel and instruments, the speedometer markings extended to 170mph, and the way the rev counter isn’t zoned off until almost 7000rpm.

For all its supercar pedigree, this engine has impeccable manners, and its Getrag five-speed 'box in a conventional H pattern is much less obstinate than the dogleg version in the M3. But the engine doesn’t reach its full 251lb-ft potential until 4500rpm, and you quickly learn that when you play between there and the redline, the M5 is a different car altogether, the engine always so smooth, but the noise rising to a wail, the push in your back solidifying as you charge towards the next corner.

It’s a strange experience, sitting so upright, and heading to the horizon this quickly. And if you’ve had much to do with ’70s and ’80s BMWs, it’s equally strange to discover that you can slow down for that upcoming corner, and even exit it without having to gather up armfuls of opposite lock. Well, in the dry, at least.

There’s the inevitable body roll you expect of a 30-year-old car based on a 45-year-old design. But this is that rare thing: an old car with the performance
and finesse to let you hustle with new
cars on a decent road and emerge with a bigger grin. 

That B10 has a lot to live up to. It gets off to a great start. I’m already smitten with the way this thing looks from the outside, and the cabin is just as appealing. It out-blings the M5, this time with proper Recaro seats in place of the M5’s less special BMW sports seats. There’s a flash of Alpina colouring on the upholstery, the company’s distinctive four-spoke steering wheel, snazzy orange needles for the instrument pack, and a numbered plaque on the dash top to remind you that this is a cut above the M535i it was based on. Sytner Nottingham, which converted cars for UK customers under license from Alpina, produced just 25 right-hand drive E28 B10s, making this a rare beast indeed.

BMW’s M30 is a brilliant engine: strong, simple and sounding superb here, breathing through a set of large-diameter exhaust pipes. Applying the same modding tweaks they’d used on the B9, the Buchloe engineers coaxed 261bhp from the straight six, pushing the B10 to 62mph in 6.8sec.

Or probably a bit more with the auto ’box. Yeah, yeah, I can hear the groans now. And here is where we get to one of the biggest differentiators between BMW’s and Alpina’s approaches to the supersaloon. 

You didn’t have to go the auto route with your B10, Alpina – or Sytner – would happily sell you a manual version complete with gorgeous wood-topped gear lever. But in giving you the choice, Alpina offered something BMW couldn’t, or wouldn’t. And it forecast the way the supersaloon would go a quarter of a century later, when sophisticated automatic gearboxes and paddle-shifters would really help nail the balance between touring car and limo.

But that technology wasn’t around in the 1980s and there’s no getting away from the fact this thing would be much more appealing with a five-speed manual bolted between the chairs instead of the four-speed ZF auto with its T-bar and release leaver still set up for a left-hooker. 

It works reasonably well in normal driving, and the three-position dial at the base of the console lets you select from economy, normal and sport modes to tweak the shift points. But with only four speeds it never feels particularly sporty and it absolutely lacks the urgency and sense of connection the M5 delivers.

Fortunately, the sluggish response and loss of precision that’s part and parcel of driving elderly autos isn’t enough to dim your enthusiasm for the rest of the package. The M5 might be quicker off the line, but the B10 feels lusty in the mid range and sounds almost as good. It’s a different noise. Not as smooth as the M5. Deeper, grittier, with that slightly menacing ticking at idle that’s unmistakably M30. And you know what,
I think it's even more fun in the bends. Obviously, there’s a similar feel to the way they behave, and the Alpina too serves up excellent dry-weather traction from the fat rear wheels and limited-slip diff combo. But the Alpina appears to roll that bit less, doesn’t seem to suffer any more for understeer despite wearing 205s up front to the M5’s 225s, and it offers that bit more meat to the way the steering responds.

The M5 parries with its sharper throttle response and a manual transmission that lets you modulate that power delivery so much better. But then the Alpina returns fire, happily slurring between gears on the gentle cruise back to base, reminding me of the dual character of my AMG waiting for me when I hand the B10’s keys back. This is a close one to call.

 

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Alpina B10

Specifications  

Engine: 3430cc/6-cyl/DOHC

Transmission: RWD, 5-speed manual

Power: 261bhp@6000rpm

Torque: 254lb-ft@4000rpm

Weight: 1340kg

Performance

0-60mph: 6.8sec

Top speed: 150mph

Economy: 20mpg

What to pay:

Concours: £45,000

Good: £35,000

Usable: £25,000

Project: £20,000

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BMW M5

Specifications: 

Engine: 3453cc/6-cyl/turbo/DOHC

Transmission: RWD, 5-speed manual

Power: 286bhp@6500rpm

Torque: 251lb-ft@4500rpm

Weight: 1400kg

Performance:

0-60mph: 6sec

Top speed: 150mph

Economy: 20mpg

What to pay:

Concours: £45,000

Good: £35,000

Usable: £25,000

Project: £20,000

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Modern Classics view

We’d happily lose a limb to put either of these cars in the garage. They’re perfectly preserved windows to a time when the world was still getting used to the idea of a four-door saloon that went like a Ferrari, and BMW’s M logo was little known outside the racing world, not something you found badly glued to the back of every second Barry-d 318i around town.

As we noted at the beginning of this feature, the way each car looks will likely play a big part when it comes to deciding which one you prefer. 

The M5’s the archetypal Q-car, much like its modern namesake. With the M5, it’s all about the element of surprise, and there’s plenty to be said for that. When it comes to the Alpina, it's a bit like an Audi RS6 with its honeycomb grille and bulging arches; as much about the promise as it is the performance. It's loud and lairy, and in no way could its looks be regarded as subtle. If you find the M5 a little po-faced, you’ll love the Alpina’s sense of fun.

Judged purely on rarity, the Alpina has the BMW thoroughly licked, although thanks to the M pedigree and in recognition of how special the power plant is, the M5 is worth a bit more. Ian has his insured for £40k, while the B10 is up for slightly less. And that makes sense. The M5 is the more special machine.

But the dog-eared photo of my £1000 M5 turd reminds me that I kind of scratched that itch, and while I have come close to owning E28 Alpinas on a couple of occasions, the stars never quite aligned enough to allow it to happen. But I still want it to. With that in mind, if I could find me a manual B10, along with the £35k required to pay for it, then that’s where I’d spend my money

Wind It Up

For years unloved even by many Maserati fans, the Ghibli II is starting to appreciate. But is tracking
down one of the few remaining worth the effort?

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Neil Fraser


 
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The very 1990s splash of lines and block capitals says ’Turbo’ on the boost gauge.  Which undersells the Maserati Ghibli II a bit, as it packs not one but two IHI turbos. It’s worth remembering that when you stab the throttle – volcanic boost defines the car.

But then you might be struggling to remember this car at all. Maserati is a proper prestige brand now, its image boosted by the 3200, GranTurismo and Quattroporte V. Last year Maserati launched its first SUV, the Levante, and with the Alfieri on the way, the future looks at least secure. But wind back 25 years to the Ghibli II’s launch and things were different – it was a brand in trouble.

The issue was the same one that’s probably flicking through your mind. Isn’t it just a reheated BiTurbo? Well, no it isn’t – but after that car’s reliability problems, Maserati was struggling.

In the UK it didn’t help that from 1991 to 1998 there was just one Maserati dealership – Meridien in Sussex. Just 150 Ghibli IIs found UK homes and fewer than half remain. 

So why should we care? The 3200 GT that replaced it is  more traditionally beautiful and the build quality is better. 

But as pretty as the 3200 GT is, there’s a brutish, menacing style to the Ghibli II that we can’t help but love – it’s up there with the Lancia Delta Integrale and Alfa Romeo SZ. And if you’ve been following our markets pages you’ll notice that both have rocketed upwards in price. Brutalist Italian styling is in right now.

The question is, does the Ghibli II have the bite to match its visual bark? Let’s wind it up and find out...

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There’s something about Italian fizz. Take San Pellegrino soft drinks – at their heart, they’re just like normal soda with a strange metal foil on the top for an extra bit of 'premium-ness’. But there’s something rather more exotic about San Pellegrino than the usual suspects. The flavours are a bit alternative, just that little bit more interesting. Challenging even – mint and lemon, or fig and orange, anyone? San Pellegrino is bit like fine wine for those on the wagon.

It’s a similar case with Maseratis of the 1980s and 1990s. You could easily go to Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Aston Martin for your ultra-performance GT fix, but they’re a bit... common

No chance of that with the Ghibli II. When was the last time you saw one on the road? Indeed, have you ever seen one?

I’ll freely admit that it’s an acquired taste. Gandini may have massaged a few curves into the BiTurbo styling language for the 1990s, but the Ghibli II is still about as subtle as an angry pimp’s negotiation technique. From the massively inflated wheelarches to the profusion of vents and grilles, there’s a function to this form. It’s a shape that’s got better with age, but still one that’s reviled by traditionalists. That adds to the appeal, at least for us. 

But even the most negative of Noras will enjoy the rich baritone rumble that flows out of the dual-branch quad pipes on start up. This isn’t the high-pitched whine you might expect from a V6; this is a gruff, V8 throb. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The interior is much more gentlemanly than the thuggish exterior. There’s lots of hand-stitched leather, exquisite wood panelling and lovely, squishy chairs, adorned in Connolly’s finest; it looks like you’re holding the Michelin Man hostage with the chipolata-on-a-stick gear selector. Much more special than a rival Aston Martin; much less Ford parts bin special.

But there is a lot parts sharing going on here. While this most definitely isn’t a rehashed BiTurbo, it does use the 2.8-litre V6 that had seen service in the 222 4V and 430 4V. The electronically-adjustable Koni dampers were all new – you can alter the settings on a keypad next to the gearlever. Series 2 cars, built after Fiat had bought out Alejandro De Tomaso, received a Ferrari 456 rear axle. On this Series 1 example, we’ve got a Quattroporte IV item. 

It works well, too – the BiTurbo era was defined by skittish handling and iffy steering, and ownership should have come with a free medallion. The Ghibli II banishes all that – it may run on 16in wheels and 235/50 rubber, but there’s so much dry weather grip you’ll be pulled through A-road apices as if you’re attached to a tractor beam. With a suitably sporty set-up, the Ghibli II corners flat, with plenty of data relayed through your palms. It’s so much more planted than a BiTurbo.

You’ll need a firm hand on the tiller, though – there’s significant weight to the steering, on par with the Porsche 928 GTS. But unlike that car the suspension is much more supple if you choose it to be. 

The most vibrant flavour of them all is the engine. Its horsepower figure may not astound, but it’s more about the way the torque is delivered – the two IHI turbos kick in with a mighty 305lb-ft of thrust. And that’s not an overstatement.

With so much dry weather grip it’s a bit like being chucked from a medieval trebuchet, hurling you forwards on a wave of torque from 3500rpm. The kickdown needs a hard shove – you’ll be glad of that safety feature when the roads get moist – but once deployed that torque lasts well into 5000rpm, with a big, bassy bartione roar all the way to the top.

You certainly don’t miss the extra 26 horses the Italian market cars got from the 2.0-litre version of the engine, mainly because of the extra 40lb-ft of torque in the 2.8-litre. In fact there’s so much torque I don’t feel too upset that this particular car has just the four forward ratios on its automatic gearbox. However, the prospect of a five-speed ZF manual is mouthwatering...

But that’s for another day. Today’s all about revelling in this car’s outright punch. Though a Porsche 928 and Aston Martin Virage would offer a similar level of performance and luxury, the mixture of headbutt-the-horizon thrust and teeth-dislodging grip puts me in mind of a much newer Porsche – the 996 Turbo. 

Of course, the 996 Turbo is much faster still, but there’s such a feeling of bullet train-like solidity about the Ghibli II’s in-gear acceleration that in the real world it feels almost as quick. Line up a straight, kick the throttle and feel your scalp hit the headrest like a dropped dumbell.

It’s a feeling you’ll come back to, though it’s fair to say that when the rain falls it doesn’t take much to overwhelm the relatively puny rear tyres. You have been warned...  but then again, doesn’t that danger add to the allure?

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Maserati Ghibli II 2.8 V6

Specifications -  

Engine: 2790cc/6-cyl/turbo/DOHC

Transmission: RWD, 4-speed automatic

Power: 280bhp@6000rpm

Torque: 305lb-ft@3500rpm

Weight: 1406kg

Performance -

0-60mph: 6sec

Top speed: 155mph

Economy: 25mpg

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Modern Classics view

We’re not going to lie to you and say that owning a Ghibli II will be easy or inexpensive. But then neither is owning an Aston Martin Virage, which is what this Maserati should be judged against.  

Sadly, it’s got a similar problem to Newport Pagnell’s largely unloved GT. The majority of people will always favour the curvier, more traditionally beautiful coupés; for Virage read DB7, for Ghibli II read 3200 GT. The latter is currently trading for around the same price as a Ghibli II. However, running a Ghibli II would probably be cheaper than a 3200 as long as you buy a good one. Despite what internet legend would have you believe, there are three or four sources for spares. 

Anyway, curves aren’t for everyone, as the Alfa SZ and Lancia Delta prove. For a fraction of the price of those, or an Aston Martin Virage, you can have a Ghibli II. After all, why have dandelion and burdock when you can have San Pellegrino? 

ABOVE ALL OTHERS

GT Porsches are the toast of auction land, and the 996 GT3 RS is the latest to soar. But is it worth the hype?

Words Rob Scorah Photography Neil Fraser


 
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These days, it’s almost a conditioned response; our reaction to the red on purest white, to the squirley script and the unadorned, rounded slope-backed shape. It’s a kind of heightened expectation about what that means; it’s an RS; a Porsche, a 911 – only more so. All were homologation exercises. In 1972, it said Carrera, and woe betide anyone who let the ducktail cuteness lull them into thinking this was anything less than a Group Four racing dominator. In 1984 with the 911 SC RS, it didn’t ‘say’ anything; just that pure white on the 20 cars needed to go Group B rallying. 

In 2003 it said GT3 RS, in either red or blue, and with wheels to match. After three decades of the tradition, you knew that this meant lighter, leaner, keener and more alert. And probably, a little bit faster. The RS of ’03 was the less-is-more version of Porsche’s latest incarnation of the 996 GT3, which had not long taken over from the first of this higher-performance evolution, launched in 1999. All of the GT3 bloodline traced a lineage back to racing aristocracy, and the RS, with its stripped-down demeanour, brought you even closer to the track cars.

There’s something of a puzzle if you look at the spec sheets side by side; the pared-down edition weighs more or less the same as the full-fat version. On this RS, we’ve got a carbon bonnet with a lightweight badge that is simply a sticker. We’ve got a polycarbonate rear window and no back seats. But then, the standard GT3 had no back seats either. You’ll also find that the hot-driving version gets a little bit hotter still – the air-con is gone. For excitement’s sake, you might not care that some of the soundproofing has also been chucked out. And anyway, the radio’s gone too. In an RS, you want to drive harder than your average 911 pilot, so you hope the weight has gone into things that matter. Looking behind the seats, you’ll see that it has – a thick cross-braced roll cage in the rear.

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Looking around the cabin of the ’03 car reminds me of its 1970s forbear; bucket seats, full straps and that half cage. The similarity is hopefully because both were designed with almost identical intent, rather than contrived nostalgia. The dash in both was, and is, fairly standard road car – sporting chic, though more minimal the first time round. I’m liking the body-coloured transmission tunnel, brushed metal details, and grey suede with red stitching. I’ve just noticed that this car has a radio, though I don’t think I’ll want it today. In any 911, you want to hear that flat six.

If you’ve come straight from old-school and air-cooled, the sound from the back of the GT3 RS won’t be a shock, but it is... different. The 996 was the first of the liquid-cooled cars. So there’s that veiling of the higher frequencies. It’s less thrashy. Some of the hotter 911s could make you wonder if the engine bay was lined with tin. In this, there’s a modern boutique-exhaust/sports burr infused with that low, slightly asymmetric boxer burble. But yes; it’s still a Porsche ‘six’, and when it moves away there is still that (albeit more muffled) dialogue between engine and transmission. And the odd extraneous whine.

The GT3 line boasted what became known as the Mezger engines. Hans Mezger had been designing Porsche motors for almost four decades, but this lump was a genuine dry-sump unit, with its origins in the powerplant he designed for the air-cooled 911 GT1 Le Mans car. It was also a similar motor to the one found in the 962 prototype. But where that engine was able to indulge in exotic cylinder heads, the M96/72’s four-valve heads were derived from those of the still rarefied (and water-cooled) 959. So some serious and direct motorsport lineage here.

With some marques, such pedigree comes with a certain degree of ‘attitude’, but this is a Porsche and it feels anything but highly strung in the first few miles. There’s a wonderful connectedness between throttle and engine, with a lively response in the revs – like the more exotic Carrera GT – that reminds you this car has a low-mass flywheel. The RS also has a different clutch to the standard GT3. All the geartrain connections feel very mechanical, but very smooth and nicely engineered.

That balance between unrefined sports car and sophisticated GT is set differently in every 911, but no matter how much leather you put in them, there’s still the faintest trace of max’d out Vee-Dub hot rod. Talking of hot-rodding; the bolt-on Nismo-style big wing gives a hint of where this one is going – none of that discreet, speed-sensitive elevating spoiler malarkey – just slap that sucker on and you’re good to go. 

Under that big carbon fibre blade is a very retro-looking, duck tail-like fin. But again this is a thoroughly modern appendage; it’s an air collector, which uses pressure build-up to keep feeding air to the 'bay at high speeds.

But maybe it’s not a great idea to go all out and get too familiar with the machine until you’ve felt your way around it. It is a 911 after all and like all its older siblings has its engine where no one in their right mind would want to stick a large weight on a sports car – one big pendulum. One of the model’s chief paradoxes has been the desire – almost need – in any new iteration, to be a true old-school 911 while still pushing the technology forward.

I’m liking the fact that the car still feels small. And I’m still sitting on the floor with floor-mounted pedals and shifting a floor-mounted gear shift – you know – one with connecting rods and stuff. Like the older cars, everything here is close; the gear shift hard by your thigh, and the relatively large, tactile steering wheel between your knees.

The RS’s steering is one of the car’s most engaging assets. It’s meatier than a standard GT3, again enhancing that track car feel. You seem to feel every nuance of the road’s surface through it, and yes, the tarmac will now and again lure the front wheels into following ruts and cambers, but the car’s response to your input is very direct and its turn-in to bends is immediate. Its accuracy, coupled to this Porsche’s almost uncanny grip on the asphalt, gives you huge confidence in the machine.

The six-speed manual gearbox too is likewise precise and beautifully-weighted. The shift is always quick to the right cogs, the engine’s powerband so easily accessible. Does it do that 911 thing where the car is pretty disinterested until 4500rpm? There’s a lot less of that. The big torque sits lower in the rev range than the standard car, some 273lb-ft at 4250rpm. But of course, it does get exponentially more lively as you pile on the revs. And the motor gets more exotic, more track car-like in its tone.

Go down a gear, drop your right leg and the RS quickly becomes a fiercely rapid machine, though rarely is it trying to get away from you. Your whole concentration can be focused on the line, controlling the Porsche with tight, smooth, from-the-shoulders gestures, never wrenching the car from you, even in tight turns.

A great thing about a 911, and more acutely this RS, is how it bonds with British roads; the furious build up of power you can unleash on long, arcing A-road curves, the progressive bite of the brakes – the car keeping its balance, and the weight-shifting, ducking and diving along B-roads. Though not so much diving – the new, firmer suspension has dialled that out. But there’s still great weight-poise-angle management with the throttle – making the nose
bite just before the turn, or pushing the car almost into a drift over the apex. 

It’s that level of intimate, nuanced control that makes the RS the most involving Porsche of its generation.

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Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Specifications:    

Engine                        3596cc/6-cyl/DOHC

Transmission              RWD, 5-speed manual

Power                         381bhp@7400rpm

Torque                        284lb-ft @5000rpm

Weight                        1360kg

Performance:

0-60mph                                 4.4sec

Top speed                               190mph

Economy                                 18mpg

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The Modern Classics view

The RS achieves a curious feat which only a small band of machines manage to achieve. It’s something to do with things unfolding rapidly yet never happening too fast. 

In taking ever more liberties in spooling out the power in the twisty lanes, the rear end at last decided to take a slightly different line to the front. Not with the alarming ‘catch this, sucker’ attitude of the 1970s Turbo, but more with an instinctive ‘this is how we’re doing it’ you’d sense as an ice skater when you know you’ve positioned yourself to drift slightly. You know it because your legs are connected to your backside and to your gut. And in that same way – rubber-to-steel-to-rump – you feel the GT3 RS and the linear progressiveness of its gestures.

That sums up the RS-ness of the machine. It’s not the power. In fact, if you look at the spec sheets (again), this thing isn’t really any faster than the standard GT3. It’s the connectedness, the involvement and thereby the intensity of the ‘mechanical’ driving experience. 

Did I still long for an air-cooled 911? Despite the older models’ occasionally slightly bonkers demeanour and the facial expression of an amphetamine-fed frog, I once reckoned no new 99-whatever would ever take their place. But this 996 ‘special’ manages to retain almost all the qualities of the air-cooled cars while bestowing tech which, largely, only enhance its character and abilities. 

Good grief; out of all the variants gone and those yet to come... could this be the perfect driver’s Porsche 911?  

TRACK MARKS

They were the ultimate machines in the frenetic world of ’80s German touring car racing – but should BMW’s Sport Evo or Mercedes-Benz’ 2.5-16 Evo II be the car to crave today? 

Words Chris Chilton   Photography Neil Fraser


 
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Think of the key 1980s battles. Iran fighting Iraq for dominance of the Persian Gulf. Testarossa versus Countach for supercar supremacy. Wham versus Duran Duran for space on your sister’s wall. For schoolkids in der Fatherland, there was another serious grudge match going on. In the DTM touring car series, Germany’s home-grown tin-top championship, BMW’s E30 M3 was duking it out with the Cosworth-powered Mercedes-Benz 190E.

Instead of one of the big six-cylinder motors both firms were known for, they used screaming 2.3-litre fours, sending more than 300bhp to the rear wheels in competition trim. But these were no silhouette racers. To legitimise these cars in the eyes of the FIA, BMW and Mercedes-Benz had to build 5000 examples. The result was some thrilling racing and a pair of now legendary road cars.

But stand still in racing and you’ve lost. In their battle to stay ahead BMW and Mercedes-Benz needed to push their ageing cars further. And the FIA obliged, allowing car makers to homologate changes to existing models by building just 500 roadgoing examples. These weren’t ground-up rebuilds, but evolutionary changes. The Evo was born.

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BMW M3 SPORT EVO

‘Go on, rev it up!’ demands the oik on the bike at the petrol station. We try to wave him away, telling him he’s got the wrong idea and will be disappointed, but he’s adamant. You can see why. They’re all high-rise spoilers and jutting splitters, menacing black paint and fat arches. Maybe he recognises the M3 badge mounted at both ends of the BMW. Maybe he’s confused by the lack of an AMG one on the 190E, but the ludicrous front splitter probably more than makes up for it. To oik, weaned on a diet of Shmee150 and Top Gear, they were obviously going to emit some kind of glass-shattering shriek or bowel loosening bellow. But they don’t. I give the M3 a few chunky blips. The sound is hard-edged, crisp and purposeful, but totally disappointing in the context of a modern ’63-engined AMG. Oik looks nonplussed and rides off.

He was a child, likely born 15 years after these cars’ heyday, but even when they were new you had to understand why they existed to see the appeal. Because in both cases you could buy a conventional six-cylinder car with almost as much power, and a much fruitier soundtrack, for less money. And in the case of the BMW, sit on the right side of the car.

Does that left-hook layout add to the M3’s kudos on a subliminal level, like the boxy arch flares and re-profiled rear window? Possibly. It certainly makes grappling with the Getrag dogleg ’box – another touch of the exotic, or maybe just anachronistic – an even bigger challenge, at least for us Brits. That gearbox was connected to a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine in the original 1986 M3. A bored and stroked version of the 2.0-litre M10 four found in the early 320i, the M3’s cast iron block is canted over at 30º and topped with a twin cam 16-valve head.

For all the hype, original M3s can seem pretty underwhelming coming to them fresh with modern eyes. Yes, the handling is sweet, but it can feel like there’s simply not enough engine to make the most of it. The little 2.3 sounds pretty tuneless and is only moderately muscular. Early cat-equipped cars produced as little as 195bhp, along with 176lb-ft of torque, although later cars nudged power up to a more substantial 215bhp.

But the Sport Evolution was different. It was the third M3 Evo, built in greater numbers than Evos 1 and 2, and less successful on track, but hugely more desirable today. And when it comes to the Sport Evo, you can just about believe the hype. It’s the one first-gen M3 that really feels like something quick when you toe it.

Stretched to 2.5-litres it squeezes 235bhp at 7000rpm and, if not quite the wind from your lungs, it at least gives you a proper slap on the back. That extra capacity makes it feel like there’s more punch low down, though the figures say there’s a solitary lb-ft in it. Either way, you need to stroke that ’box to make the scenery blur, something made more difficult by this car with its sloppy bushings, a notorious used BMW weakness.

Get the rev counter spinning and the flat noise turns into something more serious. Never tuneful, it’s interesting to listen to with those four individual throttle bodies metering out precisely the right amount of fuel. This is an E30 M3 that has enough muscle to haul your neck hairs to attention and ask some proper questions of the E30’s excellent chassis.

That’s the M3’s chassis, as opposed to a regular 3-Series’ item. I love E30s, the styling, the compact size and the solidity, but with the steering ratio of a manual window winder and the traction of a pair of banana skin-soled moccasins on greasy lino, they’re not quite the dynamic deity they’re often made out to be. Fortunately, there are more changes to an M3 than simply wider arches. Although the suspension layout is the same, meaning there’s a pair of struts up front and a pair of trailing arms at the rear, the hub assemblies are actually from the E28 5-Series. The geometry was different at both ends too, and the steering lost almost an entire spin between the stops for a more respectable, if still hardly spirited, 3.6 turns.

That was for the M3s and the Evo I and II derivatives that followed. The Sport Evo dropped 10mm closer to the ground and had even wider arches to fit racing rubber, although road cars wore the same 16in BBS rims as earlier Evos. Even with the 2.5’s extra muscle, the Sport Evo feels rock-solid, responding smartly to steering inputs and soaking up all your right foot can throw at it. Body roll is well controlled and the brakes feel firm. This is a light and taught car that feels like a proper racer, where the contemporary 325i feels more extrovert and less together. 

You’d have to try hard to slide the Sport Evo around, which, if you’ve spent any time in grunty 1980s BMWs, is a surprise. The curved dash and slab-sided door glass feel familiar – so familiar that it’s hard to reconcile the near-£100k price, particularly given that this car – sold at a recent Historics at Brooklands auction for £78,400 – is in far less sorted nick than one I drove in 2007 when they were worth a fifth of today’s values. But the market says that’s what they’re worth, and they’re still climbing. 

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BMW M3 Sport Evolution

Specifications:    

Engine                        2467cc, 4cyl, DOHC

Transmission              RWD, 5-speed manual

Power                         235bhp@7000prm

Torque                        177lb-ft@4750rpm

Weight                        1255kg

Performance:

0-60mph                                 6.5sec

Top speed                               154mph

Economy                                 22-30mpg

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Mercedes 190E 16V Evo II

On track and at auction, the 16-valve 190 has been playing catch up. The 190E Evo II, however, is not like other 190s. There’s no mistaking this thing for a gussied up Munich minicab. Looks outrageous, doesn’t it? And we’re looking at it through eyes that have become accustomed to watching Evos and Imprezas prowling high streets and seeing be-winged Porsches on every magazine cover. This car came out in 1990.

Let’s briefly rewind six years, and the launch of the car underneath that battle dress. Officially known as the 190E 2.3-16 in honour of its size and the number of valves belonging to the special engine underneath its bonnet, it’s often just referred to by the people who did the work: Cosworth. Bolting a four-valve twin-cam head onto the 190E’s exiting 2.3-litre bottom-end resulted in a useful 185bhp and 173lb-ft of torque in the road cars, more than double what a cooking 190 offered.

The hot 190 was supposedly engineered with rallying in mind, to continue the success Mercedes-Benz had achieved with the SLC. But by the time the engineering had been done, Audi’s four-wheel drive Quattro had changed the game. Instead, the hottest 190 would earn its stripes on track. And it did that before even entering the DTM world, first setting a stack of endurance records at the Nardo high-speed bowl in Italy in 1983, and in 1994 providing a PR boost for both the Mercedes-Benz brand and a young up-and-coming F1 driver, when Ayrton Senna slayed a stack of F1 stars past and present in a one-off one-model race before the 1984 Nürburgring Grand Prix.

With no livery, just each driver’s name above each sill of 20 plain-looking saloons hurtling around a German race circuit, it must have looked like a bunch of reps on a team building day. As if the sober four-door styling didn’t already tell you as much, one option on the spec sheet gave a clue that the 2.3-16 was a more gentlemanly steer than the M3. While the standard gearbox was the very same dogleg Getrag ’box you’ll find in an M3, Mercedes-Benz also offered a four-speed automatic alternative from 1985. As far as most road car fans were concerned, the other big news in 190 chronology was the switch to 2.5-litre power in 1988, boosting output to 204bhp and adding the security of double timing chains.

But, though little known in the UK, there was more to come. In 1989 Mercedes-Benz launched the Evo 1 featuring a more aggressive body kit than standard, with a larger rear wing and deeper front spoiler. Wheels, similar in style, were actually an inch bigger to cover larger brakes. And though the engine was another 2.5-litre lump offering an identical 204bhp, with, confusingly, 5lb-ft less twist action, its internal dimensions were different, giving more tuning leeway on track. But it wasn’t enough. BMW tied up that year’s championship, leaving Mercedes-Benz trailing in fourth. Enter the Evo II.

And what an entrance. That much plastic shouldn’t look right on a humble four-door saloon, let alone one from staid old Mercedes-Benz, but the Evo carries it off. Those 17in wheels are an inch bigger than the M3’s and bolted to suspension that can be shifted through three different ride heights via a switch on the dash. Drop into the driver’s seat and you’re immediately aware of how much less huggy, and how much more slippery the seat is than the excellent Recaro SRDs in the Sport Evo M3. The steering wheel is a typically huge Mercedes-Benz affair too, though supposedly smaller than the norm, its ugly boss ruining the sporting atmosphere. Hmm. In truth, having spent quite a few miles in Sport Evos, I’m not expecting a great deal from the Benz.

Big mistake. It’s laugh-out-loud brilliant. There are clues to this car’s special nature before you’ve turned the spindly key or twisted the wheel to sample steering that’s way more talkative and responsive than you’d expect given that it’s a doddery old recirculating ball setup. Stuff like: a production number (323/500 in this case) on the gearknob, and a rev counter that’s not cordoned off until almost 8000rpm. The engine is superb. Not growly enough to impress our garage forecourt audience, but a serious bit of kit. It’s essentially an Evo 1 engine with an even higher compression ratio, and all the better with a few revs on the dial. Wind it out and it feels and sounds angrier than the M3’s with a really vicious bite at the top end as it soars on past its 232bhp power peak to 7800rpm, 800rpm after the BMW has thrown in the monogrammed M towel.

The gearshift is notchy, but throw the lever across the incongruously wood-trimmed console with your right hand (like all M3s, 190 Evos were exclusively left hookers) and the travel seems shorter than the BMW’s. 

Contemporary – and obviously conservative – manufacturers’ figures tell you that the BMW was quicker, getting to 62mph in 6.3sec, to the Merc’s 7.1, which ought to tally with their identical power outputs given that the 1255kg BMW is 85kg lighter. But which one makes the driver feel like a heavyweight driving hero? 

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Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II

Specifications:    

Engine                        2463cc, 4cyl, DOHC

Transmission              RWD, 5-speed manual

Power                         232bhp@7200rpm

Torque                        181lb-ft@5000rpm

Weight                        1340kg

Performance:

0-60mph                                 7.1sec

Top speed                               155mph

Economy                                 20-28mpg

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The Modern Classics view

On the road these cars feel all but inseparable in a straight line, but through corners, and even with its special limited slip differential apportioning the torque, only the 190’s engine feels strong enough to trouble those rear tyres. It’s a fascinating car and – brilliant though the Sport Evo certainly is – by the end of the day it’s the Mercedes-Benz that feels that bit more special. 

Collectors seem to agree. Today the 502 190 Evo IIs are worth huge money. This car wears just 8700km and a £220k sticker in the window, dwarfing even that of a
good E30 Sport Evo, reflecting its rarity, its outlandish persona and the fact that it was the only 190 capable of outmanoeuvring its nemesis on track. It doesn’t roar like a modern AMG, or play elevens with a lazy stroke of the right foot. It’s the purest kind of homologation special, a car that exists only to let its track-based brothers go faster. The kid at the garage didn’t get it, but we know better. 

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue (issue 9) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

BORN SLIPPY

Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black vs BMW M3 CSL

Rising M3 CSL prices have put it on a collision path with the rarer CLK63 AMG Black. Which one delivers the best thrills per £1?

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Richard Pardon


 
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Think useable trackday sportscar, think 911 GT3, right? Yes, it’s a great car, but hamstrung by an image problem. That huge fixed rear wing may be an altar of worship for enthusiasts, but it’s a homing beacon for inverted snobbery. 

BMW and Mercedes offered more subtle trackday machinery in the mid-2000s, cars that were rather more useable. Both offered spectacular pace and immersive handling, but with the space and refinement for everyday use. Both even have automatic gearboxes, for when you want to cruise home after a day pounding round Brands Hatch. 

The BMW M3 CSL came first in 2003, and to rapturous praise. It was about £20,000 more than the standard M3, but the extensive lightening, stiffening and honing was deemed to have made the £58,000 entry cost worthwhile. 

All 422 cars sold out quickly, and rumours abound that BMW smuggled an extra 100 in from other territories to satisfy demand.

Though there was a spell of depreciation, that’s far behind the CSL now. You can still pick up an example with 60-70,000 miles on the clock for £50,000, but if you head below 50,000 miles you’re starting at around £70k. Really low-mileage cars are now nudging £95k.

That brings it into direct competition with the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLK63 Black, a car with a set of performance figures as big as its name. 

It’s a rare car but one that helped to inspire a revamp of the AMG brand. It cost £100k and has hardly depreciated – we found a 70,000-mile car on sale for £70,000, though for a low-miler you’re looking at £95k. 

But can the AMG Black really do the business on track against one of the most beloved modern classic BMWs? And is the M3 CSL really worth all of the market hype?

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Mercedes-Benz CLK63 - AMG Black Series

It takes a while to get into the CLK63 Black – there’s so much to take in – scoops here, polished alloys there and steroidal bodywork addenda. While it doesn’t wear its trackday aesthetic as openly as a Porsche 911 GT3, it’s clear this Mercedes is far removed from a normal CLK.

We’ve become accustomed to Mercedes going hardcore, mainly thanks to the mainstream success of the C63, with which the Black shares its engine. But in 2007, when the CLK Black was released, such a hardcore AMG was a shock – its creations had always been fast, but they’d largely lacked the handling finesse that was a trademark of BMW’s M division. The CLK DTM and SLK 55 AMG Black had raised the bar, but the CLK Black really grabbed the headlines. And in the low winter sun, it’s hard to peel your eyes away from its burly form. 

All that pumped-up aggression is matched by the CLK Black’s 6.2-litre M156 V8 engine. There’s no refined whisper here, but a baritone rumble that’s more NASCAR on idle. It has vast reserves of torque too, which it’s constantly reminding you of as you try to move off smoothly. Tap the throttle and there’s a deep thump from the rear, like an angry drill sergeant hitting you in the back of the head to keep up marching pace. And all this before you get on to the circuit…

Once you do it’s clear that this isn’t a car for lap times or apex-clipping elitism. Try that and you’ll find that the huge engine dictates proceedings with healthy doses of understeer. Instead, the CLK63 is emphatically about sideways entertainment. Very sideways.

Even with traction control on, you can feel the Pirelli P Zero Corsas wanting to let loose, which they do fairly easily. With TC off you can pull tail slides at any speed, yet it doesn’t feel intimidating. It’s willing to play, and can turn a novice into a drifting legend.

That confidence is boosted by the steering. Even if the overly fat steering wheel looks like a partially deflated bean bag, turn-in is accurate and there’s plenty of feedback to allow you to gather up the rear. It’s much more communicative than most of its AMG forebears. 

You don’t miss a manual gearchange, because the huge torque allows you to drive it on the throttle. On a tight track you could conceivably leave it in third, drifting your way around until you need a tyre fitter. Most of the punch comes in past 4000rpm, by which point your ears are treated to full-on TVR-style blare all the way to the 7000rpm redline and a watercolour world painted in sheer speed. You’ll be past 60mph in just over four seconds and well past 125mph eight seconds later. 

Downsides? The seven-speed Speedshift gearbox may upchange faster than you can blink, but downchanges aren’t as quick. That really only matters if you’re going for lap times. 

It's an expensive car – but then it feels like one. There's lashings of glossy carbonfibre and you really can get a sense of the impressive engineering that went into this car. Those big arches swallow a wider track – up 75mm at the front, 68mm rear – while the coil-over suspension can be adjusted for ride height and camber, and the dampers fiddled with for rebound and compression. Despite all that racecar adjustability, in standard form it's smooth and compliant over bumps. 

Other modifications to the standard CLK AMG include an additional oil cooler for the transmission, while there’s a pump and oil cooler for the steering system and active differential. The carbon ceramic brakes have lots of feel – but if you need to push the pedal hard you'll find that stopping power is almost governed by how willing you are for your molar fillings to end up on the dashboard. 

But for all its racing car-derived tech, it’s really not best driven like a racing car. That tendency for mid-corner understeer, plus those truculent downshifts, mean it’ll never be the scalpel that the M3 CSL is. But if your remit for a track car is wanton sideways fun and to hell with the lap times, then the CLK Black will leave you with a silly grin normally reserved for scrumpy drinkers.

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BMW M3 CSL (E46)

It took some gumption for BMW to wheel out its CSL moniker for the E46 M3. After all, that title was last used on the lightened E9 homologation special of the 1970s.
A legend in its own batwings. 

But it's more than just a branding exercise. M division junked the M3’s electric seats, replacing them with glassfibre buckets, and was generous with the carbonfibre on almost every visible surface. The outside has plenty of  carbon too – the entire roof is a one-piece unit, lopping 6kg off the kerbweight alone. There’s more carbon in the spoilers fore and aft, and extensive use of glassfibre and plastic in other panels too. The lightweight forged alloys save 11kg, and the track control arms are aluminium instead of iron. In all, 110kg came off – but the main aim was lowering the car’s centre of gravity.

The bucket seats are relatively generously proportioned and rear chairs are still there – it may be track-enhanced but it’s still practical. We’re not here for the daily commute, though. Time to hit the circuit.

It doesn’t take long for the CSL to bewitch you. Nearly all of the sound-deadening material was junked in the pursuit of weight savings, so you can hear all the rattles,
all the crunches and, most importantly, the S54 B32HP straight-six engine. There’s an extra 17hp over the standard car’s 343bhp, and it packs a high-flow carbon air intake and lightweight exhaust manifold, both straightened to aid engine responsiveness. 

And by golly it works. The M3 CSL doesn’t so much accelerate as suck you from apex to apex like a matchstick in a vacuum cleaner. There’s only a veneer of torque at about 4000rpm, but stick with it to 8000rpm and your ears zing to the rasping buzzsaw engine note. It’s raw, uncouth, exciting and utterly addictive. 

Its on-paper stats may not seem too impressive over the standard M3 – especially given the price differential – but it feels so much faster, so much more alive. Sixty is swallowed in under five seconds, 100mph in six seconds more.

But while the engine seduces, it’s the steering that inspires devotion. You can feel every ripple, every knot in the tarmac, and response is nothing short of incredible. There’s no delay in your commands to the front wheels – it feels as if the drivetrain is directly linked to your synapses. The steering rack has a slightly higher ratio than the standard car, giving you glorious bite around the straight-ahead and less arm-twirling when you're on it. 

Like most owners, Dan Norris of Munich Legends has junked the standard-fit semi-slick Michelin Cup tyres – this CSL is wearing Michelin Pilot Super Sports. The deeper grooves provide spectacular levels of grip, even in damp conditions. Throw the CSL into the corner and it feels utterly planted; there’s a whiff of understeer but backing off the throttle and correcting doesn’t unsettle the rear. At high speeds those carbon spoilers and splitters offer an astonishing 50 per cent more downforce than the standard car, and after a spirited track drive your battered innards will attest to the car’s cornering stability.

The big problem is the SMG II semi-automatic gearbox. While it feels satisfyingly meaty in operation, and each 0.08-second shift is 0.8 seconds quicker than a standard M3’s SMG, it feels like it takes an age to downshift. Advances in gearbox technology since the CSL launch make it feel as obstinate as a pre-bedtime toddler. It lacks the tactility of a manual gearshift or the
immediacy of more modern paddleshifters. On more open circuits and less complex B-roads it feels much happier and easier to drive around. But on this smaller, tighter track, it feels sulky.

The brakes, while progressive, don’t inspire as much confidence as you’d hope. Combine that with the uncertainty of the gearshift time and you really do have to maintain your concentration to get the best out of the CSL. It’s not a power-oversteer superhero – it’s much more cerebral than that. 

The joy comes from hitting those apexes, perfecting those lines, matching the downshifts to the braking, getting everything right in search of the perfect lap. 

The M3 CSL isn’t for everyone – but for those it bewitches, it becomes an obsession.

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The Modern Classics view

BMW and Mercedes approach the trackday special recipe from two directions. The more serious BMW is the equivalent of golf; you’ll always be in pursuit of the perfect lap, and you’ll be back at it again and again. The Merc is rather more like football – it’s as serious or as silly as you want it to be, though best enjoyed with good humour.

The CLK Black is the most entertaining on the track. But while its propensity to go sideways at all times, even with the traction control on, is great fun on the relatively safe confines of a circuit, for some it could be less welcome on damp, busy A-roads. As it happens we love its unhinged character. Despite this, you can’t help but enjoy it on track or road – if you’ve got the stomach for the latter. It feels properly exciting, yet utterly refined when you just want to relax on the drive home.

The M3 CSL is a fabulous car. Get it wound up on the right track or the right B-road, and it’s truly superb. It’s still a firm ride but the damping is slightly softer than the CLK's, and there’s more exploitable fun at legal speeds. The CSL is also much more predictable on the super-sticky Michelins. But it’s a car that only gels when you’re fully on it, and will annoy when at a relaxed but brisk pace. The SMG II may have been lauded in its day for its speed, but now, in modern traffic and with a decade of gearbox development ahead of it, it feels clunky and slow. However, it takes just one B-road sortie to forget all of that – engine, sound, chassis balance and steering are sublime.

Either car is so different in philosophy, there’s a case for owning both in a dream garage. The M3’s pleasures are less obvious than the Black’s – it’s a car that needs to be learned and adapted to. If you’re looking to spend £70k-plus on a track toy, you don’t want to be making excuses. In the real world the CSL may offer greater tangible entertainment, but only in short doses. A great car for £55k? Undoubtedly – but not worth the £70k-£90k being asked for low-mileage cars. 

The CLK Black feels every penny of its lofty pricetag, from the execution to the drive itself:  it feels like it's on another level to the M3. It paints its entertainment in broad strokes – and tail slides – and that won’t be for everyone. But the chassis is so easy-going and so willing to play on track that it’s hard not to be won over. Again, it’s not perfect, but the torquey delivery mitigates its gearbox woes more easily than the CSL’s. You’ll also need strong resolve to drive the CLK as hard as the M3 on a B-road, but that only adds to the allure for us. 

Though the CSL glitters, it is the three-pointed star that shines brighter here.

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue (issue 9) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Peugeot Perfected

Peugeot Perfected

Giving a tired, engine-swapped 205 GTI to Peugeot UK’s apprentices meant they benefited almost as much as the car did

Words Nigel Boothman Photography Laurens Parsons/PSA Academy


 
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The Peugeot 205 GTI should be a perfect subject for restoration: small, simple and enjoying a recent and sustained surge in value. 

The appealing little Peugeot’s classic credentials are assured, but its status is still changing. In the past 15 years, 205 GTI fans have watched them move from an everyday sight as third-hand, beer-money cars to something rare and desirable. Now, as parts support dwindles away, it's far from simple.

So, how would Peugeot fare when it turned 150 of its own apprentices loose on a 205 GTI it bought especially for the job?

This restoration had to be organised like no other. Imagine you have a car to strip, fix and rebuild, but you also have six groups of teenage apprentices as your manpower. They arrive for week-long residential blocks of training before disappearing for six weeks until their next block. It calls for imagination and no small amount of flexibility, as PSA Academy's Jason Giblett and senior trainer Simon Foster know well.

‘The lads come in for four or five days in a row,’ says Simon. ‘Each of these training blocks covers a different topic. We tend to introduce that topic with a couple of days of theory and take it from there.’

This is more than just a long session in a stuffy classroom. With a teaching aid like a 205 GTI on hand, Foster can give the apprentices a bit of freedom to get inquisitive and even to lead the direction that the project takes.

‘Take the suspension as an example,’ he says. ‘The lads would learn how it’s arranged, but also what the shortcomings might be on a Modern Classic like the 205,' he adds. 'Most importantly, are there ways to modernise or improve the set-up? They’d research this, and when we’d come to a decision about the best way forward, it would be up to them to source the parts too.’

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‘We arranged the work to the 205 against the needs of the training, not the other way round,’ adds Foster.

With the car fully stripped, rotten floorpans and isolated holes elsewhere became apparent. PSA’s training academy didn't have a bodyshop programme, but ended up running one, anyway. 

‘Our lads did all they could as far as stripping and preparation went – I reckon 400 or 500 hours went into the shell alone,’ says Giblett. ‘After that, the guys in the technical centre took over, welding in new floorpans and fixes to the other damage before painting it and returning it to us.’

That non-standard Mi16 engine seemed in to be fine health, so the apprentices concentrated on cleaning and re-finishing the alloy parts and replacing every service item – belts, seals, hoses, plugs and filters.  

‘The Mi16 engine goes straight in to the 205’s engine bay, albeit on to different engine mounts, but it’s a tight fit.’

Away from the running gear and power unit, the interior was deemed too grubby to re-use and the project received a new kit of seats and cards bought as a set from a trimmer. The apprentices learned how to re-fit the loom and replace all the ancillaries, but some of the most time-consuming puzzles arose simply from a lack of parts availability. If Peugeot themselves get stuck, then what?

‘There are some things for the 205 GTI still listed in our catalogue, but most items are hard to source. Spoox Motorsport, who supplied the car, tracked down a good deal for us,’ says Giblett. Throughout the 18-month restoration, trainers made extra time for apprentices who wanted to stick around and do more.

‘In every group there were always a few who wanted to stay an extra hour and keep working on the car,’ he says.

One of those apprentices was Dan Cook. He works for Howard's Peugeot in Weston Super-Mare and was halfway through his apprenticeship when the 205 arrived. ‘I was already well into older cars,' he says. 'I’d even done some autotests in a BMW 3-series I bought before I started. The work on the 205 gave me more confidence, and since then I’ve done a few projects of my own. I bought a MkI Scirocco Storm for £150 and spent eight months restoring it.’

Cook wound up as PSA UK’s Apprentice of the Year and went on to train as a Master Technician. When the busy weeks of hard work on the 205 finally came to an end, you’d think the car’s role as a learning aid did too.

Apparently not, says Jason Giblett. ‘It’s a tribute to what the apprentice programme can do and we’re keeping it to inspire others. We’re also planning what the next car will be. A 2CV? Maybe an AX GT?’ 

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Is it good to drive?

If you've never driven a 205 GTI, then you'll be completely unprepared for the sensory overload it's capable of delivering. From the tips of your fingers, via your gluteus maximus, and down to the ends of your toes, every bit of you is bombarded with feedback.

But hang on a second. Aren't we here to judge this car on the merits of its restoration? Nah. You already know it's flawless, and everything looks, feels and operates like new. The seats have been retrimmed beautifully, the carpets are box-fresh, and even the boot floor looks like it's just come out of the factory. 

So, yes, thank you PSA Academy for building us a new 205 GTI to play with. For a generation of petrolheads, a day in this car is automotive nirvana. 

First thing to consider, though, is that Mi16 power unit under the bonnet. Oh yes, that thing. Although it looks like it has always been there, the race-bred XU9J4 power unit – all 160bhp of it –was never fitted to the 205 GTI by the factory. PSA reserved it for the 309 GTI, 405 Mi16, and Citroen BX 16 Valve. Let's not think about these as donors.

Instead, consider its boisterousness when you fire it up. It idles cleanly, if noisily, and comes with hair-trigger throttle response. The slender gearstick controls a frankly truculent change, and the non-power-assisted steering makes it feel cumbersome even before the off. You sit high, and dominate the light, airy cabin – the perfect driving position for fast and committed driving. 

Forget the biscuit tin feeling of flimsiness, and enjoy what's to come on the open road. Once underway, the 205 GTI really weaves its magic on you. As there's 160bhp to shift just 875kg, it's hardly a surprise that it pulls vigorously. Although  it's an engine that's known for peakiness, there's no lag in the 205 GTI. It pulls hard from idle speed and in pretty much any gear. Although there are no official performance figures, anything this side of a BMW 330i is easy prey.

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So, it's fast. Compellingly fast. That much is obvious from the off. But we all know that what the 205 GTI is legendary for is its sublime handling and delicate feedback. So, heading away from the Coventry base of the PSA Academy, we stay away from the A-roads and dual carriageways that criss-cross the region, and hunt for challenging B-roads. Although it's a challenge in wettest Warwickshire, it's one we can live with in the 205 – it's a sheer delight to drive.

When we do find those sinuous back roads, the lively GTI takes on an altogether more playful persona. Let's start with the ride and handling, which are simply superb. It's been fettled to perfection by the PSA Academy apprentices, and as a consequence, suspension control is superb.

It's stiff, but never to the point of discomfort, and that's a trade-off that  results in electrifying turn-in and roll-free, neutral handling. Surface lumps and bumps you'll find on your typical British B-roads are shrugged off disdainfully, and when you really push on,  you can lean on it, and depend on it to grip and go.

Waiting to hear about lift-off oversteer? Forget it. On the modern tyres this one is wearing, you'll struggle to get near to its limits of adhesion. Impressive stuff.

But let's leave the best 'til last – the steering. It's here that the 205 GTI sets itself apart from every other hot hatch, and emerges as a true sports car. It positively writhes in your hands, nearly overwhelming in its feedback, telegraphing every nuance of the road's surface. It's the primary reason why you'll make the 205 GTI dance. 

This driving brilliance is the reason to restore. We're glad the PSA Academy is far from being alone in feeling this way.

This article appeared in the January 2017 issue (issue 8) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Fighting Back

Porsche 968 ClubSport vs Maserati Ghibli Cup

In a battle to survive the dark days of the early 1990s Porsche and Maserati went hardcore. Do they still have the skills to thrill?

Words Sam Dawson Photography Lyndon McNeil

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As far as cliché is concerned, the 1980s was Porsche’s decade. The mix of Group C race wins, reliability and an association with success meant six-figure production runs for the 924 and 944.

Over in Modena, Maserati spotted an opportunity to enter this new world of mass-market exotica. The Biturbo, and later the 222-era cars, were the result. 

However, come the early-1990s recession, the everyday exotica market vanished. Both marques needed a new strategy, but with their cashflows choked off they had to be based on proven mechanicals, yet reworked for a new market. Salvation lay on circuits, with track days and single-model race series blooming in popularity. 

Porsche was the first to cherry pick this market by focusing a new car on it. The 968 Club Sport, evolved from the 944, featured a stripped-out interior, stiffened anti-roll bars and seats adjustable by Allen key. Unusually, it charged less for this special edition.

A year later, Maserati’s Ghibli – in essence a 222E with Quattroporte IV bits nailed to it – spawned a customer race series, called the Open Cup, and a roadgoing version of the competition cars. The Ghibli Cup had Momo bucket seats, stiffened suspension and a screaming 2.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 with, at 330bhp, the highest per-litre power output yet seen..

Nowadays, the near-double price differentials between these variants
and the standard 968 and Ghibli II models they are based upon reflect their special status as superior driving machines, the finest of their respective – sometimes corrupted – bloodlines. 

However, they’re far more important than that in the Modern Classics universe. Without them, would Porsche and Maserati even be around today? 

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Porsche 968 Club Sport

It’s a harsh, unyielding world inside the 968 Club Sport. Padding on the Recaro racing seat is wafer-thin, door cards are near-featureless save for a manual window-winder, and the black, plasticky dashboard could have come out of a 1990s supermini – at least on 944s this dash was often treated to swathes of colourful cloth. 

There are no rear seats, and you get the impression that specifying a rollcage would have been more logical than a radio. It’s a message beyond that of mere driver-centrism – this car’s focus is on winning races, or nailing every apex on multiple track days.

I turn the key, expecting a yelp followed by a restless bass-buzz, but I’m met with a quietly undistinguished four-cylinder fizz. Prod the accelerator and the predominant sound is a big-lunged gasp rather than an unrestrained roar. Could the track modifications be shoestring posturing rather than genuine poise? The standard 968 was heavily criticised for being too luxurious, expensive and remote in a 928-lite manner when new.

Thankfully it only takes a few seconds behind the wheel to realise the extent of the Club Sport makeover’s effectiveness. The ride is choppy on uneven surfaces, but once on smooth tarmac that wheel pulses with masses of feedback, rather like that kart you thrashed on track on your stag do. In no way does it feel like a car with power steering and 205/55 ZR16s up front. It’s an intuitive steering rack too, with no dead-zone straight-ahead, the nose darting into country-lane bends with little more than a quarter turn of the fat wheel.

So far, so Porsche, but it’s the Club Sport’s behaviour mid-corner that sets it apart. Pitch a 924 hard into a bend and the body rolls noticeably. Do the same with a 911 and you have to keep your mind on the car’s imbalanced rear-engined physics to avoid emerging on to the next straight backwards. With this 968, there’s no nose-bob or side-to-side shimmy, just an impressively neutral 50/50 chassis stance that responds to mid-corner throttle adjustments, yet unlike a 911, backing off will bring its tail neatly back into line. Accelerate, and the rear-end piles on the grip as keenly as any rear-engined Porsche.

But it’s the engine that truly defines the 968. It was the first Porsche to receive the VarioCam system, tensioners lengthening the intake valve’s timing under throttle load. As a result, it always feels as though it’s in its torque band, rapidly reeling in an endless elastic horizon while the initial uninspiring underbonnet hum becomes an exhilarated scream as low down as 2000rpm. The flick-wrist six-speed gearchange is as compliant as the best Japanese sports cars, rather than the baulky walking-stick that protrudes from the floor of a pre-1989 911.

Admittedly it’s not as fast as a 911. However, from the perspective of a proper B-road hoon, it’s infinitely more compliant. And in the real world, that actually makes it the better car.

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Maserati Ghibli Cup

For a car derived directly from a GT-class racer, the Ghibli Cup feels almost too civilised, especially compared to the Porsche. There are imposing Momo bucket seats, but they’re beautifully upholstered in suede. There are usable similarly finished rear seats, a dashboard full of electrics – including the window switches – and although a strip of carbonfibre circumnavigates the cabin, it still has the famous ovoid carriage clock.

The driving position, as well as being more comfortable than the Porsche’s, is similarly well laid-out. The Momo
wheel in particular is beautifully sculpted, despite looking like part of a co-ordinated, yet still markedly aftermarket, budget cockpit facelift.

Turn the key, and the V6 burbles into life. Prod the throttle and there's a noticeably bassy undertone beneath the hissing turbochargers. Aurally it’s closer to a big V8 than a small V6.

The gearchange doesn’t slot home with the same sharp precision as the 968’s. Despite the hefty metal ball, the action is a plasticky-feeling short-travel click rather than a big-GT clank, lending it a feel closer to a hot hatch than a supercar.

Under way, despite the power steering, the Ghibli’s stocky 215/45 ZR17 front tyres lend the car a resistant, weighty quality. Initially this suggests the steering feel will be dulled but, once up to A-road speed, it’s clear it's dealing with an enormous amount of grip. What the 968 achieves with the balancing of engine and transaxle along the chassis, the Ghibli emulates with gluey foursquare adhesion to the road. Perhaps overcompensating for the Ghibli’s wayward older sister, the Biturbo, Maserati created a car that feels impossible to unstick, at least in the dry.

Naturally there are drawbacks to this. There’s no sense of mid-corner adjustability. Rather, you pick your line, stick to it and power out. As with TVRs of this era, there’s a sense that there’s often no progressive, gradual breakaway in cars with roadholding so apparently viceless, thus when it does finally let go of the road, you’ll probably be going too fast to regain control.

What it does give you is the confidence to use its colossal power. Accelerate hard down a straight, and that torquey burble hardens in volume and savagery up to 3500rpm, upon which the turbochargers sweep whistling into life, lifting performance on to a further, more aggressive plane. It’s no supercar – the 2.0-litre engine may have a phenomenal specific power output but it’s still a
1424kg car – but its behaviour is sophisticated, with none of the lag found on the era's overboosted shopping trolleys. You have to be smooth with the Ghibli, but power comes in progressively as you head for 168mph. Yet such is the torque that it’ll happily cruise down motorways too. 

In civilising a racer, Maserati built a true dual-role high-performance car and luxury GT all in one.

SPECIFICATIONS                  Porsche 968 Club SPort                   Maserati Ghibli CUP

Engine:                                   2990cc/4-cyl/DOHC                        1996cc/V6/DOHC

Power:                                    236bhp@6200rpm                           330bhp@6500rpm

Torque:                                   225lb ft@4100rpm                            275lb ft@4000rpm

Maximum speed:                   152mph                                               168mph

0-60mph:                               6.2sec                                                 5.6sec

Fuel consumption:                 19-32mpg                                            22-25mpg

Transmission:                          RWD, six-speed manual                    RWD, six-speed manual

HOW MANY LEFT?                 66                                                       24

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Buying tips: Porsche 968 ClubSPort

Some dealers are passing off Sports as Club Sports by aesthetically modifying them. While they are similar in terms of suspension, it isn’t possible to replicate the specification with the Sport exactly. To spot a real CS, look for manual windows, a glassfibre panel in place of rear seats and a pull-cable release for the rear hatch. There shouldn't be mountings for rear seats, either.

Detailed service history is a must, and take care leafing through it. Look for evidence of the exhaust camshaft belt and tensioner, inlet camshaft chain and balancer shaft belts having been changed every 50,000 miles. 

A whining sound from the rear end signifies a worn pinion bearing in the transaxle assembly, which requires a lengthy gearbox stripdown and rebuild at a cost of £2000. 

Although the Club Sport’s ride is understandably firm, any knocks from the suspension are usually the sign of worn-out dampers.

Brake caliper baseplates can lift up when the aluminium corrodes, causing the brakes to bind. It makes it impossible to fit new pads, so people bodge it by grinding them. A £150 per brake stripdown and rebuild is the only solution.

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Buying tips: Maserati Ghibli Cup

Make sure it’s complete, as some basic parts are virtually impossible to get hold of now. Tail-light clusters, trim, plastic bumpers – if they’re missing or damaged, getting hold of them isn’t easy. 

If the engine warning light stays dark on start-up, this suggests someone has unplugged it to conceal a fault, and very few specialists will have the Marelli diagnostic equipment to track down the problem.

Rust attacks Ghiblis from underneath. Also, water collects just below the bonnet hinges, causing rust that allows the electrical system to get wet. Budget for undersealing on purchase.

Make sure you're buying the real deal. Back when these cars were nearly new, many owners fitted Cup trim and badges to standard Ghiblis when the spare parts were readily available. Confusing matters, there were two Ghibli Cups – the 330bhp roller-bearing-turbo 2.0-litre, and the ‘hybrid’ Cup which teamed the Cup chassis with the Ghibli GT’s 285bhp 2.8-litre engine. The hybrid will be easier to live with, but not as sought-after as an investment. To tell the difference check the ID plaque on the front crossmember – genuine Cups are stamped AM577, while GT engines are AM496; they also have an ECU per bank rather than a single ECU.

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The Modern Classics view

Both these cars were born of the same urge – to use motorsport credibility to change the image of their respective brands, as everyday exotica was unfashionable and, thanks to the recession, unaffordable to anyone but a lucky few.

Both succeeded. The Porsche 968 Club Sport sold to the burgeoning track-day market, and sired the bigger-selling 968 Sport with its rear seats and electric windows reinstated. For Maserati, the Ghibli Open Cup race series raised the marque’s profile as a builder of exciting performance cars.
A new era of well-built and competitive Maseratis began soon after the Cup, with the 3200.

For cars conceived for such similar reasons, they achieve the same goals in dramatically different ways. The hardcore Porsche feels light and flighty yet utterly controllable, every aspect of its dynamics built around the balance of its transaxle layout. Some 911-bred Porsche purists might find it lacking in mechanical intrigue, but in doing so they’d overlook the sheer compliance available. It’s entirely possible a 968 Club Sport could outhandle
a normally-aspirated 964 on a circuit whose bends make it more about handling than acceleration. Ultimately, it demonstrates the inherent excellence of the then-20-year-old 924 platform, and the rewards of Zuffenhausen thoroughness and polish. Porschephiles should accord it more respect.

The Maserati Ghibli Cup, on the other hand, is a beautiful silk purse, the stitching lines around the remnants of sows’ ears barely visible. It’s the result of radical corrective surgery rather than antiseptic evolution. Thanks to its G-force-bending roadholding and torrents of power, it will achieve the same on track as the Porsche, but will feel altogether more dramatic – and, dare we admit, a tad scary – while doing so.

However, there is one factor that swings this test in the Maserati’s favour. It manages to be a genuine GT and a tarmac-gobbling sub-supercar at the same time. The 968 is too single-minded by comparison. It seems near-perfect in isolation, and yet so far as bald figures are concerned, the Cup is on the pace.
It might have taken Maserati a decade to get the Biturbo/222 right – but when it did, it created an all-time great.

This article appeared in the January 2017 issue (issue 8) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Killer Redhead

The standard Testarossa too boring? Not '80s enough? Don't worry, you could plump for Koenig's astonishing 800bhp remix. Hang on and enjoy the ride. 

Words Rob Scorah Photography Neil Fraser

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What do men with power want? More power. So if we extrapolate that, what do men with a supercar want? More power, a body kit and an exterior colour-coded cabin. Fair enough, but what if the soon-to-be empowered supercar is already one of the most flamboyant machines to have taken to the road? Things are going to get outlandish, that's what. 

Behold the 1987 Koenig Ferrari Testarossa Competition Evolution II, the ultimate incarnation of one of the 1980s' most potent bedroom wall stars. Depending on what angle you catch it from, you may be thinking F40, custom drag racer or 512M. The latter was a later addition by the third owner, who thought the standard Testarossa nose just too prosaic. So he sent it back to Koenig for further surgery. All this isn’t so much gilding the lily as giving it an aluminium weave stem and razor blades for petals.

In its day, the Testarossa had some stick from the old guard as being too much the poseur, a hairdresser’s car – and one without competition pedigree at that. Men who yanked the Daytona’s recalcitrant parking-speed steering with one hand sighed and shook their head. But a standard Testrossa looks relatively restrained next to this mass of ducts and spoilers. And the interior's positively sombre.

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When describing many supercars, we might gloss over the interior – but here, it's to be celebrated. This is a symphony of excess. Open the door, and there's a sudden rush of red – of a shade you might more expect to see in Liberace’s tour bus. When you’re sitting in it, in bright sunlight, that interior starts to glow. If, no doubt like some of Koenig’s more ‘artistic’ or hedonistic clients, you had had a few heavy or otherwise ‘interesting’ nights, you might think that some kind of psychedelic experience was kicking off behind the wheel. 

In place of Ferrari’s standard, tombstone seats, there's a pair of moulded, high-backed and shoulder-embracing structures that look like they will hold you firm when the ordinary Testa's benches let you slide sideways when the cornering forces that this car can generate take hold. 

OK, we're trying to ignore the vibrant blue ‘Koenig’ script on the four-point harnesses, (look at it long enough and the letters will burn into your retinas), but they too are an improvement on the usual same-as-a-Fiat-Uno seatbelts. And lastly, there's the steering wheel. Thicker, slightly smaller and with moulded thumb grips. Oh, and it's red. Very, very red. 

Still, unlike the original designers, Liberace and his assistant did acknowledge that you might be generating some serious forces in this machine, and they furnished you with the body and hand-bracing tools to wrestle with it. Other than these items, the cabin is pretty standard, except for one final hint as to the nature of this thing; the speedo now goes up to 320km/h (200mph). 

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Time to drive this bespoke 1980s monster. The sun is streaming through the glass, and we're looking between the plush stitched leather and the tiny Perspex sliding window. It's easy to believe that this car might have some identity issues. And with ‘the glow’, we're feeling the need for painkillers and sunglasses. And we're not even hungover. But otherwise, we're ready. Bring it on.

‘On’ is the usual ignition key, and start-up is a snuffling whinney, a snort. That's then a whumf, which settles into a menacing growl of a slightly more nervous pace than the standard idle. It's an angry-sounding car, this.

Knowing how much power has been pushed from the big horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder sitting quite high behind your right shoulder, it’s quite a surprise to feel the usual benign clutch of a Testarossa. And, like its standard cousins, the monster trots off slowly on little more than tick-over, grumbling to itself as it goes. Apart from the row, it could be a Mercedes-Benz trickling forward such is its docility. Lamborghini would have done well to take note.

As soon as you think that though, you reach down to click through the open gate, going from first – close in by your thigh – to second, forward and to the right. It’s a little stiff of course, at least until the oil warms up. Idling towards a main road, there’s time again to take a deep breath and prepare for what's about to happen.

Once again, it's time to take stock of the super-wide bodywork, but from the perspective of the driver’s seat.The Testarossa’s standard mirrors – generally quite good ones by supercar standards – have been replaced by angular and elfish little ears. There doesn't appear to be any way of adjusting them. The far side one gazes into space, while the driver’s one stares down the assorted ducts of the rear pod. So we’re going to have to rely on the centre mirror, which does its best to peer out of the engine cover openings and under the F40-style rear wing.

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By now, we’ve reached wide, black tarmac and the Koenig’s ready to prowl. There’s a lot that’s familiar Testarossa – the supple ride, the smooth spooling up of power. It may say 'Competition' on the wide door sills, but thankfully no one’s seen fit to harden up the suspension to the point of blurring your vision. Dampers and springs dismiss potholes with a far off thud. You feel nothing through the seat and the car tracks straight. The front wheels take a little notice of ruts and grooves, but a grip of the steering wheel keeps the front where you want it.

Yes, the Testarossa was a great tourer, allowing very low-input progress when you wanted it. But a quick stab of the throttle and a down-change will remind anyone that both Koenig and the Testarossa held secrets that could so easily be unleashed. The tacho needle jumps, the engine tone hardens, and, even in this weighty GT, the change in pace is immediate.

Go in too hard and you’ll hear a guttural hiss from the rear and feel a slight wiggle through the seat as the big beast’s huge rear tyres break traction under the power. Complete with tyre smoke, it's a party piece at low speed, but really it just breaks the Ferrari’s rhythm and poise. Better to roll your heel steadily, grip tightly and hang on.

The delta-winged sled hunkers down, digs in and takes off like a jet on a steam catapult. It makes the ferocious mechanical noises you'd hope for from an 800bhp projectile. Accompanying this is a rorty yarp rises from the exhaust, while the instrument needles climb quickly through some alarming numbers. The absurdity of where you’re sitting then flashes across your awareness – the boudoir leather combined with racing seat rigidity, the reclining driving position and the shoot-from-the-hip gear change flowing all this power through the cogs. 

It’s kind of automotive glam-rock. And as tight bends approach, you wonder what this sizable rig will do, though glancing this way and that to try to get any kind of framing reference from the mirrors is useless. At least you can always have confidence in a Testarossa’s steering, the nose turning in a reassuringly exact answer to the twisting of the wheel. And no matter how much lock is applied, the car seems to be tucking itself in tighter. 

The body roll of the standard car has gone, presumably tied down by the heavier duty springs and anti-roll bars. The big GT’s stance is neutral, no fighting to make it turn under power, but equally little reaction if you muck around with the throttle mid-bend. Though probably best not to try that on an 800bhp Testarossa’s limits.

But it's amazing that, despite the Ferrari in a Rocky Horror ball gown appearance, the machine just deals with anything you through at it. Autobahns – obviously. A-roads, lots of fun. B-roads, still pretty nimble. 

Foolhardily, yes, it could follow a Caterham into narrow country lanes, and give it a damned good run for its money – at least until the Koenig’s rear end jammed between the hedgerows and the Caterham scurried away. Apart from the insane width, the car is a testament to both maker’s and modifier’s ability.

Of course, the Koenig is great at devouring continents with ease. You can drive from Calais to Geneva without breaking a sweat. It excels at blasting down coastal highways, its banshee wail drifting towards the mountains inland. Perhaps the greatest travesty against the car was Ferrari’s muting it with a muffling exhaust and too soft a suspension so as not to upset its plutocrat clientele. But Willy Koenig freed up the Testaroosa’s inner hooligan.

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The Modern Classics View

Firstly, it's probably worth getting the real world stuff out of the way first. The Koenig modifications – as time progresses – will probably leave this Testarossa worth less than its unmodified cousins in a market where originally means everything. It'll be harder to sell, too, as well as maintain, should you chip its bodykit or kerb a wheel. 

But does that matter when you have 800bhp at your disposal, and are driving the ultimate incarnation of 1980s bedroom wall poster excess? The Koenig is an astonishing car – it allows for you to dial in as much or as little wildness as you want at any given moment. It’s a comfortable tourer, now with added ‘vividness’.

The engine is superbly tractable, though if you plod through rush hour traffic, it takes on a ‘chorus of the damned’ moan just to emphasise its boredom. What is the ultimate satisfaction of this thing is that, with a snap of a gearchange and dab of throttle, it's transformed.

As quick as the needles flash across their dials, the Koenig morphs from grand barque to destroyer, from elegant tourer to molten Nismo street racer. It leaves hot black tyre trails on the tarmac and its exhaust yowl scorches into the walls. And then back again – all in time for tea at the marina.

We hope the original owners of these boutique hotrods knew they are best taken with a slice of irony and a wicked sense of humour. That they should revel in these creations, but not take the whole thing too seriously. You'll have an awful lot of fun that way.

This article appeared in the June 2016 issue (issue 5) – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Civic Unrest

The Honda Civic Type-R is one of the finest analogue driving experiences you can get. With the numbers of decent cars thinning out, now’s the time to buy.

Words Nathan Chadwick Photography Laurens Parsons

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Performance

  • 0-60mph:                6.6sec
  • Top speed:              146mph
  • Economy:                33mpg

HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R EP3

  • Engine:                      1998cc/4-cyl/DOHC
  • Transmission:            FWD, 6-speed manual
  • Power:                       197bhp@7400rpm
  • Torque:                      145lb-ft@5900rpm
  • Weight:                      1204kg

If you’re struggling to understand why the Honda Civic Type-R is now an investment opportunity, we understand. After all, many thousands left its Swindon birthplace, and it seems like only yesterday that the streets were filled with the unmistakeable whine of EP3s charging around. More recent still is the memory of poorly modified examples. We know what you’re thinking – surely there are too many of them around?

But we need only look at the precedent set by the Peugeot 205 GTI. Top-quality Pugs worth waving your well-earned at are now £10,000, with truly exceptional examples trading for much more. The Honda is now at the same stage the Pug was at just 10 years ago. The difference between the very best, low-mileage cars and the ones you wouldn’t touch with someone else’s are getting further apart. Values are already strong for the best examples and, like the 205 and the 206, the replacement wasn’t quite as good.

This means the Civic Type-R has a bright future. The very best cars are worth seeking out and tucking away now. Still unconvinced? Let us show you why it’s such a good buy in the perfect place to demonstrate its skills – Wales.

Forget your preconceptions. Forget those tedious internet memes about VTEC kicking in (yo). Forget the badly modified Civic Type-Rs angrily trundling around Maccy D’s on a Friday night, their tailpipes so huge even Rocco Siffredi would feel inadequate. All that matters about Honda’s EP3 is what happens at 6000rpm.

This is when the Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system makes its presence known. At higher rpm oil flow forces a slider pin through the camshaft rockers, which in turn locks the 'VTEC' profile and the low-rpm rockers together into one large rocker. The cam lobe that's now acting on the valves has a different profile designed to maximise high-rpm power output – and evoke Cheshire cat-like grins from those behind the wheel. Where other hot hatches would give up at 6000rpm, the Civic is thirsty for more – around 2000rpm more.
Get into this heady 6000-8000rpm zone and you’ll be relishing the pure, analogue zest. It’s the kind of palm-sweating, synapse-sizzling excitement that only comes when an engine’s screaming, the cabin’s resonating and the outside world is just a series of indistinguishable browns and greys. Head into a corner, thrust the ideally-placed gearlever down the close-ratio gearbox and let the revs sing as the Civic scythes through the apex. Boot the throttle, feel the extra shove come in past 6k, then bang up through the gears as the rev needle slams around the dial faster than you can blink.

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But let’s calm down a bit and take stock – you have to appreciate what a change of pace the EP3 Type-R was for Honda. Of course, it wasn't the first Civic to wear the hallowed badge, but the EK9 Type-R was never officially brought to the UK. The EP3 Type-R was designed and built in Swindon – and you can sense the British B-road-honed quality throughout. 

A colleague describes the EP3 'R' as about as close as you’ll come to riding a motorbike on four wheels. He’s not wrong, though in the bleak midwinter in southern Wales, we’d much rather be in the Civic. The interior is enormous; there’s lots of space in the footwell and plenty of headroom. The centrally-mounted, rising gearlever frees up knee space and there’s even room in the back. The bright red Recaros are beautifully supportive, though some of the interior trim is overly plasticky and even on this sub 45,000-mile car shows signs of wear.

But this isn’t a car for smugly analysing the density of the interior plastics. Nor is it a car whose looks provoke eulogies, though it’s not ugly. The Type-R may not be beautiful, but it is purposeful and neat – quite an achievement, given the normal Civic was a blobby sub-SUV by this time. 

The engineers got around the problem by lowering the ride height by 15mm. The result is a car that’s sweetly poised, and one that seems subtle these days compared to the brand-new Civic Type-R. 

But the best fettling can be found under the skin. The Type-R uses variable timing control (VTC), which hydraulically adjusts the degree of overlap of all 16 valves, constantly adjusting them based on engine load. This adds up to a flatter torque curve than previous Type-R lumps. Though peak revs come in at a vertigo-inducing 7600rpm, 90 per cent of its 145lb-ft of torque comes in at 3000rpm – so once past that threshold you’d better hold on.

The gearshift itself is perfectly located, allowing you to pull off touring car-style ratio changes like a pro, although there is a caveat. Going across the gate requires an aggressive shove – as does dropping from sixth to fifth. Forgetting this on the motorway and falling victim to the 'box’s eagerness to centre, means you may find yourself in third, and probably deaf. This isn’t a car that responds well to the gentle touch. That’s part of the appeal, though. Pulling away requires a Noise Abatement Order-baiting dollop of revs and cruising at 30mph means 4000rpm in fourth. It appeals fully to your inner 21-year old.  

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On the other hand, it shows a maturity in its handling that’s far beyond its greatest inspiration, the Peugeot 205 GTI. Whereas on period tyres the French offering would ping you into the nearest bit of scenery at the merest suggestion of the revs dropping, the Civic Type-R is much more benign.

True, there’s a sense of numbness through the steering wheel, but that’s just the car telling you to try harder. Start gnawing at the edges of the chassis’ extremities and the steering livens up. And it’s not murderously twitchy like a MkI Focus RS, either. Push the Civic into a corner and it’s as flat as a Fenland relief map, understeer only coming in when you’re being an absolute muppet. Lightly back off and the nose will simply tuck in. 

Torque steer only becomes a problem in the wet, under serious provocation. Turn-in is fantastically judged, and the Civic is so easy to place you can nail every apex. The 300mm ventilated anchors up front give you all the faith you need too.

Honda fitted two extra struts at the bottom of the front bulkhead; another nestles between the rear wheelarches. The dampers and springs are firmer than the standard Civic, and there are stiffer roll bars fore and aft. So the ride is firm – but it’s not flummoxed by B-road undulations, which gives you plenty of confidence to push harder. The more vicious you become, the more the car comes alive. It positively thrives on it, almost seeming disappointed if you change up before 6000rpm.

It’s about as close as a hot hatch gets to a full on racer, certainly this side of the much more specialist (and expensive) Renault Megane R26R. Get the engine singing past 6000rpm and all your senses tingle in time to the engine, your heart beats faster to the howling torrent flowing through the bulkhead and you’ll want to keep on driving until forced to stop. 

The Civic Type-R is very focused, to the point of sacrificing luxury and refinement, but its analogue highs will have you salivating at the thought of your drive home. It’s not for everyone, but once it’s got its hooks in, you’re under its spell.

Now, can we have another go, please?

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The Modern Classics View

If ever a driving experience elicited pure joy at the expense of common decorum, this is it. It’s noisy, it’s in your face, it’s not for those who like to relax. But if you find it is your thing, very little else comes close for the money.

That’s at the very heart of why this car has such a big future. We’re now entering the age where owners are moving away from outrageous mods and cherishing low-mileage examples. Facelift UK cars with sub-60k miles are now around £6k-7k. Decent cars start at around £4500-5000, and below that it becomes a bit of a lottery. While the Civic Type-R is a hardy creature, diligent oil changes with the right stuff are key – no car is infallible, and more than a few will be hiding crash damage.

In five years the best low-mileage examples will top £10,000, which will drag up values lower down the chain. But it would be a shame to see Type-Rs become static garage queens – they were built to be driven, hard. Anything else would be missing the point.

That might seem a bit of a paradox – hard driving with one eye on future values – but the EP3 is the exception that proves you really can have your cake and eat it. Great to buy, drive and own. What are you waiting for? 

This article appeared in the May 2017 issue – to buy a copy, and get all the photos and more besides, Click Here

Rolling Double Six

Some cars lead charmed lives; some have chequered histories. But these BMW E24s are now so good, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

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They say familiarity breeds contempt. The ubiquity of BMWs on UK roads means the brand is to prestigious motoring what a layby fry-up is to fine dining. Notable exceptions aside, most BMWs are as much 'white goods' as Hyundais. 

 But look at the E24 6-Series. Take in the lean, mean sharknose, the elegant Paul Bracq-penned form and the just-so mixture of aggression and elegance. These BMWs are from a special era, far removed from the seemingly infinite number of tired 318i E46s.

The E24, like all BMWs, has been through its dark, disposable period. Just five years ago, you could easily find usable-but-tatty 635 CSis for less than five grand. They were just big, thirsty coupés that had entered the cheap to buy, expensive to maintain territory. 

But not now. With the cult of M dragging the M635 CSi up into £40k territory, the 635 is being brought up with it. Concours 635s are pushing £25k+, with good cars starting at around £15k. 

This means the 635 CSi is a car that demands reappraisal – and what better way than to drive these two E24s, which have led very different lives?

One is a treasured family heirloom, modified at great expense at the factory with a limited-slip differential and a close-ratio dog-leg gearbox. The other is an automatic that fell into disrepair, but was then rescued for just £25 and restored to period-modified glory.

Both offer fascinating insights into the E24. In standard form the 635 was a big, automatic cruiser that cost £13,000 more than a Jaguar XJ-S. Yet with a few key – and expensive – options ticked it could become a B-road blitzer as feisty as a mid-engined Ferrari. We kid thee not.

Time then, to meet the heroes of the tale – and roll these double Sixes out.

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they say familiarity breeds contempt. The ubiquity of BMWs on UK roads means the brand is to prestigious motoring what a layby fry-up is to fine dining. Notable exceptions aside, most BMWs are as much 'white goods' as Hyundais. 

 But look at the E24 6-Series. Take in the lean, mean sharknose, the elegant Paul Bracq-penned form and the just-so mixture of aggression and elegance. These BMWs are from a special era, far removed from the seemingly infinite number of tired 318i E46s.

The E24, like all BMWs, has been through its dark, disposable period. Just five years ago, you could easily find usable-but-tatty 635 CSis for less than five grand. They were just big, thirsty coupés that had entered the cheap to buy, expensive to maintain territory. 

But not now. With the cult of M dragging the M635 CSi up into £40k territory, the 635 is being brought up with it. Concours 635s are pushing £25k+, with good cars starting at around £15k. 

This means the 635 CSi is a car that demands reappraisal – and what better way than to drive these two E24s, which have led very different lives?

One is a treasured family heirloom, modified at great expense at the factory with a limited-slip differential and a close-ratio dog-leg gearbox. The other is an automatic that fell into disrepair, but was then rescued for just £25 and restored to period-modified glory.

Both offer fascinating insights into the E24. In standard form the 635 was a big, automatic cruiser that cost £13,000 more than a Jaguar XJ-S. Yet with a few key – and expensive – options ticked it could become a B-road blitzer as feisty as a mid-engined Ferrari. We kid thee not.

Time then, to meet the heroes of the tale – and roll these double Sixes out.

It’s May 2013 and Taylor Hetherington is training as a car mechanic. Across the yard is a council lock-up, and one day he notices the door hanging off to reveal a BMW 635 CSi showing signs of vandalism. Taylor, anxious to protect a nice car – whoever it belongs to – screws the garage door shut.

A year later, the car still hasn’t moved and Taylor’s never seen the owner. But he discovers the Council are planning to demolish the garages. ‘If the Council try to find the owner, and fail, they scrap the car,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t going to let that happen.’

So he applies for a V5C through the DVLA, which means the last known keeper would definitely be contacted. They would probably reply, and once alerted to the dangers of the car’s abandonment, would retrieve it. And if they don’t, the car would find a willing new owner in Taylor.

They don’t. But Taylor is still keen to do the right thing, and having seen the previous keeper’s address on his new V5C, he goes round to the house to make sure it really is okay to take on the BMW. ‘The lady who answered the door was fine with it,’ he says. ‘She even gave me the original set of keys.’

The owners were demoralised by the vandalism and lost interest in the car. So what had Taylor taken on? ‘It needed tyres, brakes, a new battery, a damn good service, but it also had rust in the front wings and underneath near the rear axle mounts.’

That was a problem. Taylor, still new in his chosen trade, hadn’t yet mastered the MIG welder. The damage wasn't too severe, and so with the rear screen and side quarter glass replaced, the worst of the vandals’ dents and scrapes tidied up and new springs (lowered by 35mm), Taylor took to the road. 

 He would have been surprised to see another 635 CSi on his home patch. Yet only a few hundred yards away lived a black 1986 car – Taylor’s is early ’85 – with a manual 'box rather than the auto Taylor was getting used to. But it wasn’t often seen because its owner, Gavin Spencer, drove a Corsa as his daily. After all, this 635 was special.

Gavin’s grandfather had a particularly good day back in August 1986. He gained a grandson, Gavin, and ordered a BMW 635 CSi. He used it to commute but retired it from daily use after only two years, when he also retired from full-time work.

All for the best. With the ZF dog-leg five-speed and no cruise control or air-con, it’s more B-road blaster spec than the chilled, cruise-enabled automatic that Taylor found himself with. But those B-road qualities were what stuck in Gavin’s mind.

‘I went to visit my grandfather when I was 14 and we went out for a drive – a very rapid drive – in the 635. It’s a very fond memory.’

Sadly, Gavin’s grandfather suffered a stroke not long after that. The car sat in the garage with very little use for at least ten years, but it wasn’t neglected. A local mechanic attended to any servicing needed. 

‘A few years ago, I heard my grandfather had decided to sell it,’ says Gavin. ‘Someone had made an offer, but when I said I was interested he said if you want it, you can have it.’ Gav sold his CRX and stepped in.

With just 37,000 on the clock, Gavin’s 635 took on the status of a well-polished family heirloom. He found a set of 8-Series split rims to avoid paying £400 a corner for metric TRX tyres. He also went to the odd BMW classic car event, like the meet-up at the Ace Café. And there, he saw another 635. When they realised they lived close to each other, each was glad to have a local ally. 

‘I’d learned to weld by this time,’ says Taylor. ‘I dropped the rear suspension beam, diff and all, and repaired the rust near where it mounted. While all that was accessible I cleaned and repainted everything, servicing the diff and checking the limited-slip clutches for wear.’

A set of braided brake lines future-proofed the car’s stopping power and Taylor moved forward to the other rusty bits. He fixed a hole in the offside toe-board and then discovered that new front wings were £800 each. So Taylor fitted a pair of second-hand ones, performed a sill-end repair and applied plenty of rustproofing wax. Finally, it went for a full respray. A set of rare 16in BBS Mahle wheels finished the job in March 2016. From 111,000 miles as found, Taylor has quickly rattled up to 123,000.  

Time for us to sample the goods. Sitting in Taylor's Diamantschwarz (metallic black) 1985 car, you can't help but feel like a bit of a playboy. The wraparound dashboard and comfortable Pearl Beige chairs transport you to an era of pre-GATSO motorway blasts, where chainsmoking executives in such big coupés would charge from London to the Midlands without dropping below the ton. The slim pillars and huge expanses of glass give you incredible visibility, and help to make the interior seem much bigger than it actually is. This is seriously easy living. 

Taylor's 635 rides firmer than standard, and the unassisted steering feels heavy through the thin, aftermarket Nardi steering wheel, but it's still relaxing. Until you nudge the accelerator into the carpet, that is. 

There's an audible and physical thunk as the three-speed ZF 3HP22 autobox drops down, giving you a satisfying, urgent surge; the M30/B35 issuing a rasping shriek to all those who dare to get in the way. 

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As exciting as Taylor's car is, it's only the warm up for Gavin's. You may wonder why his grandfather spent all that extra money on a close-ratio, dog-leg ZF manual and an LSD with 25 per cent lock, when he could have bought an M635 CSi. 

With his older E24 taken in as part-ex, Gav's grandad paid £28,850 in 1986. With 1989 figures to hand, an M635 CSi cost £48,000 – £110,846 in today's money and
a price difference equivalent to an entire E28 525i. That £1000 LSD option seems like a bargain.

 Gav's fitted a Fritzbits exhaust, and that makes the six-cylinder sound glorious at full revs, a howling scream that makes your ears grin as much as an M3 at full chat – it's almost as exciting as an M635 CSi. 

The standard-fitment steering wheel is more confidence-inspiring in the corners than Taylor's Nardi, with accurate, tight turn-in and plenty of info for your fingers to digest. And you'll be glad of that when it comes to braking for a corner.

All E24s have long brake pedals, with all the force arriving at once after what feels like an aeon. It's a system that needs getting used to, but put your faith in it and you'll soon be stringing corners together like a pro. And once you do you'll understand that with a manual, this is just as exciting as more exotic, Italian cars. The rampaging zing from the tailpipes helps, and it feels so much faster than the bald statistics suggest. This is a properly quick, supremely engaging car. 

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These two cars are very different, both showing the dynamism of the E24 breed. Taylor's evokes the modifying scene of the late-1980s and early 1990s, all sinister, brooding menace. Gavin's shows what this big GT could do with its hair let down. Both are a credit to their owners.  ‘We both really appreciate the 635,' says Taylor. 'I loved the idea of giving a car a new lease of life.’

Gavin’s experience has been about preservation, but his car also means a great deal to him. ‘When I got the 635 from my grandfather, he said: “You can pay me for it or it won’t seem like something that’s worth looking after.” He’s passed on now, but he was absolutely right. I’m very glad I had the chance to keep it in the family.’

 

Words: Nigel Boothman and Nathan Chadwick

Images: Neil Fraser

 

This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of Modern Classics magazine. For a longer version and extra pictures, click here to pick up a copy. 

Priced out of the E46 M3 market? Fear not…

The modern classics market is hot for BMWs at the moment.

We’ve seen everything from Z3M Roadsters to M635 CSis surge in value over the past few years. 

Anything with the propeller badge with a big engine is likely to be dragged up in value, which includes the E46 330Ci. It’s already seen as the poor man’s M3 but you’re only really down around 100bhp and it’s cheaper to insure and run.

The 330Ci is a great rational sports coupé. It’s practical, comfortable, largely well built and capable of long journeys without wrecking your spinal cord. Okay, it doesn’t have the kudos or performance of an M car, but it’s much more rewarding on the road.

It’s also a lot cheaper – the very best 330Cis are around £8k – and costs less to tax and run, you don’t have to buy all those M Power specific bits. That figure will only get you into the shabbiest M3, and one with an SMG at that.

Pay £8000 for the best manual you can find and we forecast it’ll be up to £11k in a few years’ time.


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7.3 litre AMG R129

A V12 Mercedes SL not enough?

Don’t worry, we’ve found an AMG R129 with a whopping 7.3 litres.

MercedesSL72_A.jpg

A Mercedes-Benz AMG SL72, one of just 35 built, is to be auctioned at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in June 30th.

Based on a 1995 SL600, AMG bored the V12 engine out to 7.3 litres, which meant that the performance grew to 525bhp and 553lb-ft of torque. That means the SL can surge to 185mph, with 60mph just a memory after 4.6 seconds. It was such a potent package that Horacio Pagani chose it to power his Zonda.

It was also such an appealing package that the Sultan of Brunei ordered 25 of them... in one go! This, however, is one of only 10 sold privately, and is one of very few badged as an SL72.

It was serviced last year and found to be faultless, and comes with a panoramic glass sunroof – to see if any helicopters can keep up, obviously – and has wonderful 18in alloy wheels.

Up for grabs with Bonhams at its Goodwood Festival of Speed sale on June 30, it’s got an estimate of £70k-£100k. Do you reckon that’s an accurate estimate? 


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Why ‘90s supercars beat the best the ‘80s had to offer

Everybody waxes lyrical about 1980s supercars. They’re great – don’t get us wrong – but the sheer diversity that followed in the 1990s means that there’s something for everyone. It’s also the era of car that’s currently providing the hottest gains in the market.

We have properly old-school V8 brutes, six-cylinder screamers and even a rotary wonder. All of these cars will quicken the pulse faster than Pamela Andersen in her 1990s prime.

The Porsche 911 Turbo 993 is the last of the air-cooled hooligans, and offers synapse-splintering speed. And though it has four-wheel drive, it’s not a numb experience as our journalist finds out. Values have risen considerably – but is there still more to come?

The Ferrari F355 brought Maranello back from the brink – and how. With truly beautiful styling, spine-tingling sounds and fantastic handling, it won back many enthusiasts. Now those former teenage enthusiasts have money to spend – but has the market topped out?

The Honda NSX was the car that caused so much trouble for Ferrari – quick, slick and easy to use, it was a supercar that could be used every day. Prices have started to firm up – but where might they go now?

The TVR Cerbera married light weight with a huge V8, with truly eye-popping styling. For years it’s been the preserve of a hardened core – but could its time for wider appreciation be just around the corner (sideways)?

The Lotus Esprit V8-GT provides precise handling and turbocharged V8 shove, this is possibly the most exotic car to come out of Hethel. But does that mean it’s worth taking the Lotus position – as in, in your garage?

The Mazda RX-7 FD is the curvaceous, drift-inclined, stripped-down rotary-powered alternative to the norm. But does its reputation for histrionics hold it back as a true supercar contender?

FIND OUT BY READING THE FULL FEATURE IN OUR JUNE ISSUE


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B-Road weapons attack the tarmac

The May issue of Modern Classics is on sale from May 5th and, as usual, is over-brimming with features

We take a group of the smallest and most engaging hot hatches to Wales and remember what these cars are all about… having fun behind the wheel. But which of the five junior hot hatches is the fastest and most furious?

The poster supercars that adorned your teenage bedroom wall were invariably highly multicylindered, possibly Italian, bewinged and incredulously fat of tyre. Ultimate Top Trumps winners, they remain the perfect willy-waving ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ choice.

But here, on a seriously showstopping sequence of north Welsh roads a car such as a Lamborghini Diablo would be maximum overkill. Power thunderously out of a tight corner in first gear, and, er... remain in first; next bend, brake hard, accelerate in first and repeat, over
and over again…

What’s the use of hitting 65mph with your initial cog or doing 98mph in second? Pah, it’d be as entertaining as carrying out a Prince Albert on yourself using a javelin. No, up here, much less is much more. Time to invert your thinking and vote SNP (Small, Nimble and Punchy).

We’ve gathered five of that party’s finest candidates for you to consider. So will it be BMW’s new take on the old Mini Cooper S, the cutesy VW Lupo GTI, Ford’s hot Fiesta ST150, Pug’s stripped-out 106 Rallye or the Suzuki Swift Sport sleeper that takes the miniature hot hatch honours?


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